AIRSHOW-U.S. military sees growth in foreign sales of V-22 Osprey

Reuters

By Andrea Shalal-Esa

DUBAI, Nov 18 (Reuters) - Foreign sales of the V-22tilt-rotor aircraft built by Boeing Co and BellHelicopter could grow significantly in the "very near future,"top U.S. military officials said, citing interest in bothmilitary uses and for VIP transports.

Marine Corps Colonel Dan Robinson, who heads the Pentagon'sV-22 joint program office, said the U.S. military's increaseduse of the V-22 or Osprey around the globe was spurring demand.

The Marine Corps has four V-22s at the Dubai Airshow, wherepilots are flying demonstration flights for potential buyers.They were dispatched from a ship off the coast of Africa, flying1,500 miles to get to the Gulf.

"We see a great opportunity in this region not only from amilitary FMS (foreign military sales) perspective, but also tobe used in the VIP or executive role," Robinson told Reuters atthe air show. "You can reconfigure the cargo area quite a bit."

The U.S. Marine Corps and Air Force have a combined fleet of250 aircraft with 139 more V-22s on order, but militaryofficials see potential additional sales of up to 250 moreaircraft in coming decades.

Robinson declined to predict how many aircraft could be soldfor VIP use, noting that those discussions were still in the"early stages." But he said some initial sales to foreignmilitaries could be announced soon.

"In the very near future we could see quite a growth in theforeign military sales area," he said. He declined to providedetails.

U.S. officials have provided briefings on the V-22 to theUnited Arab Emirates, Japan, Canada, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Italy,Brazil, Colombia, Singapore, and Australia.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced in April that thefirst foreign sale will be to Israel.

Details are being finalized for an initial sale of sixaircraft to Israel at an estimated price of $70 million each,with a long-term requirement for twice as many aircraft,according to sources familiar with the deal.

The United Arab Emirates is interested in acquiring about 10V-22s, a request now being evaluated by the U.S. government, thesources said.

Japan is also interested in 20 to 40 V-22s over the longerterm, according to the sources.

Col. Paul Rock, a senior Marine Corps official, said theV-22 program had come a long way from just a year ago.

Use of the aircraft to provide aid in the Philippines afterthe recent typhoon demonstrated the practical uses of theaircraft, he said.

"It's a terribly tragedy, but also a tremendous example ofwhat a V-22 is able to do," he told Reuters at the air show.

"The V-22 is able to break through bottlenecks by takingsupplies from the airfield and bringing directly to the areaswhere they are needed," he said.

One of the current areas of interest for the U.S. militaryis how expensive it would be to adapt the V-22s to carry outaerial refueling, Robinson said.

He said Bell Helicopter, a unit of Textron, andBoeing had already conducted a flight demonstration of aprototype refueling system last summer.

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