USS Bonhomme Richard’s Maiden Voyage with the Osprey …

     In 2009, a squadron of MV-22 Ospreys from the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) deployed with the USS Bataan (LHD 6) Amphibious Readiness Group (ARG), the first-ever shipboard deployment for the Marine Corps’ newest aircraft.

     A year later, Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron (VMM) 162 from the 24th MEU followed suit, deploying with the USS Nassau (LHA 4) ARG, where they conducted more than 1,100 flight hours, many of which included medical evacuations and logistics flights in support of Operation Unified Response following the Haiti earthquake of 2010.

AB3 Jeremy New signals the pilot of an MV-22 Osprey tiltrotor aircraft, assigned to Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron (VMM) 265 (Reinforced), as it prepares to land on the flight deck of the forward-deployed amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6).   (Photo by MC3 Michael Achterling)

AB3 Jeremy New signals the pilot of an MV-22 Osprey tiltrotor aircraft, assigned to Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron (VMM) 265 (Reinforced), as it prepares to land on the flight deck of the forward-deployed amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6).
(Photo by MC3 Michael Achterling)

     As part of the continuing phased replacement of the aging CH-46 medium-lift helicopters, an Osprey squadron from VMM 265 embarked aboard USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6) in June 2013, marking the Osprey’s first deployment with 7th Fleet forward deployed naval forces.  After three months of daily flight operations in support of Talisman Saber and Bradshaw Field Training Exercises in Australia, the crew is learning firsthand the capabilities, limitations, and potential of the highly versatile tilt-rotor aircraft.

     Requiring about 60 percent more space than the CH-46 and with no vertical replenishment capability, the Osprey initially appeared to present more problems than solutions.  However, after the Osprey demonstrated its prowess in transporting two medical emergency patients to Rockhampton, Australia — a trip that would have taken the CH-46 nearly twice as long and forced the ship to alter course and mission tasking — the ship’s logisticians viewed the MV-22 in a new light.  They recognized the Osprey’s enhanced capabilities as untapped logistic support opportunities for the ARG.

     Ospreys can move parts and people in half the time and twice as far as conventional helicopters, but we have not fully leveraged its employment for logistics support and replenishment operations.  From the logistics perspective, the Osprey’s extended range and lift capacity is ideal for moving priority material in support of amphibious operations.   The operational planners, however, do not share this perspective.  During Talisman Saber and Bradshaw Field Training Exercises, routine flights were scheduled for various troop insertion and extraction missions, but the movement of priority parts was supported only on a case-by-case basis.  The urgency for moving parts from shore-to-ship often conflicted with operational plans, making it difficult to execute the last mile of the transportation and expediting process.

     Unlike aircraft carriers, amphibious assault ships do not have dedicated carrier onboard delivery (COD) aircraft, like the C-2 Greyhound, and the logistics planners are not able to route assets to predetermined locations specifically for COD missions.  Depending on the flight schedule and mission requirements, various aircraft (UH-1Y, MH-60S, CH-53E, MV-22B) are used to retrieve priority parts from nearby locations, usually in conjunction with other missions.  In short, there is no consistency in the type, scheduling, or availability of aircraft used for COD-like missions for amphibious assault ships.  The Osprey, however, brings the possibility of a routine, dedicated logistic flight closer to reality for the ARG.

     In June, Bonhomme Richard started the deployment with 64 percent of the required parts, and 65 percent of the required maintenance equipment for the Osprey.  Expediting high priority parts, therefore, was vitally important for material readiness during Talisman Saber.  Although the logistics and maintenance teams got the job done … 100 percent sortie completion rate for nearly 600 Osprey flight hours, the process of moving material the last mile was a continual challenge.

     For example, several high priority parts, including a driveshaft for a CH-53 and generator for an MV-22, arrived in Gladstone, Australia and waited nine days before reaching the ship.  During this time, the ship was within MV-22 range, but operational priorities took precedence over logistics support.  This resulted in nine additional days of non-mission capable status for two aircraft.  Furthermore, absent dedicated COD flights, high priority parts arrived at Gladstone for further transfer to ARG units via USNS Wally Schirra (T-AKE-8).  Although we successfully arranged flights for some parts, the majority of material arrived the following week via replenishment-at-sea.  As a result, the operational readiness of mission critical shipboard systems and aircraft remained degraded for an average of six days longer.

     Cmdr. Terrel Fisher, Bonhomme Richard’s Supply Officer, stated, “Logisticians spend a lot of time and resources moving material around the globe in a matter of days, but when high priority parts arrive in theater and remain ashore indefinitely, the last mile becomes the longest, negating the supply systems’ effectiveness.”

     He is a proponent for using the Osprey as a dedicated COD, and believes that such a role could improve the mission readiness and sustainability of the entire ARG.

     The Osprey’s unique capabilities bring a completely new dynamic to the logistics support capability for amphibious and expeditionary operations.  Although its size and space requirements present some challenges, the Osprey is a very welcomed addition to the ARG, and may in fact be the answer for improving last mile logistics for amphibious forces.

By Ens. Emily Hawkins, Disbursing Officer, USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6)