The Marine Corps ain’t big: just around 200,000 people, counting activated reservists. But they’re very good at everything they do, from “forced entry” (a.k.a., “invasion”) to counter-insurgency. So how do we do more with the Marines we’ve got? By spreading them out to cover more ground, that’s how.
The Marines call this “distributed operations,” and it’s all the rage. On the sea, that means breaking up the traditional heavy assault force into smaller raiding parties riding in LPD-17 assault ships and Littoral Combat Ships. In the air, that means relying on aircraft to cover the distance between widely scattered ground units. Helicopters can do it, but they’re slow. V-22 Osprey tiltrotors, by contrast, are fast.
The V-22, as expensive as it is and as troubled was its development (30 Marines killed in crashes), is perfect for distributed ops, and that’s why I’m a big fan, and why the Marines are, too. Even with today’s budget crunch, no Marine is talking seriously about ending V-22 production. We simply need that aircraft for our Marines to do what they do, well.
But don’t take it from me. Consider the recent testimony of Major General John Kelly, commander of Marines in western Iraq during the Osprey’s first combat deployment, as recounted by Air Force:
[T]he arrival of MV-22 Osprey tiltrotor aircraft in late 2007 made a difference in being able to cover the more than 50,000 square miles of desert, Kelly told reporters during a meeting yesterday in Washington, D.C. “I could dominate that place, because I had, frankly, V-22s which are an amazing, amazing capability,” he said and added, “I couldn’t do what I did with just helicopters.”