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Why the Recent Osprey Crash Is Turning Heads: An Explainer

On April 9, the Air Force announced that a CV-22 Opsrey crashed in the Zabul Province of southern Afghanistan, killing three service members, one civilian employee, and injuring many others. The aircraft had only been delivered to Afghanistan a few days before as part of the first deployment of Air Force Osreys to the country. The cause of the crash is currently being investigated — the Taliban claimed credit, but the International Security Assistance Force says that the cause remains unknown, and an investigation is underway. Chris Castelli at Inside Defense reported over the weekend that there was a firefight near the crash site, increasing the likelihood that it was taken down by enemy fire. Castelli also reported that the military destroyed the wreckage of the CV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft, as is their official policy to protect sensitivity technology, but also making an engineering investigation impossible.

Despite the reports of enemy fire, the history of the Osprey program (which POGO called for the cancelation of) has many commenters wondering if the cause of the crash was a mechanical failure. The program waived a number of operational tests in 1999 due to the aircraft's inability to meet specified requirements, pushing the V-22 into production prematurely, and in 2003 the Pentagon's Director of Operational Test and Evaluation, Thomas Christie, said he was "concerned" that testing did not prove that the aircraft was "operationally effective". Two Osprey crashes in 2000 killed 23 Marines, and in 2005 the Air Force's version of the V-22 experienced a compressor stall of both engines, presumably due to icing problems. Congress consistently supported the program, including using funding for night goggles and other military equipment to increase V-22 funding. Last March a loose bolt in the Marine's version of the Osprey in Iraq grounded the whole fleet.

POGO will continue to monitor the investigation and sends our condolences to the families who lost their loved ones.

UPDATE: Adding even more context, Christopher Castelli of Inside Defense reports on another Osprey accident that received less attention. The Air Force is investigating a CV-22 "class A" mishap (defined as a mishap that results in $1 million or more worth of damage and/or loss of life) that occurred at Kirkland Air Force Base in New Mexico on March 2, 2009 after a single engine failure shortly after takeoff. Kirkland Spokeswoman Col. Robyn Chumley denied that there were any injuries or property damage associated with the mishap.

Defense Tech also offers an interesting theory about the Afghanistan crash here.