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(photo credit: Boeing)
The Air Force is seriously considering procuring the radical V-22 'Osprey' for its search and rescue teams and possibly for special ground forces, senior Air Force officers and Boeing officials confirmed.
The V-22, jointly developed by Boeing Co. and Bell Helicopter Textron Inc., has twin tilt-rotor technology that allows it to take off and land like a helicopter but after rotating its rotors to a horizontal position to fly as fast as a conventional aircraft.
Some of its advantages are vastly superior speed and a larger cabin size. It can fly about 40 percent faster than most military helicopters. (over 500 kph) and seat 24 combatants or 12 litters. It also has nearly a 1,000-kilometer range.
The unusual-looking aircraft is also expensive. While planned to sell for about $30 million, today's estimated cost per aircraft is over $70m.
A senior Air Force official said Israel must be on the constant lookout for new developments in aircraft and that the V-22 appeared to answer many of the IDF's future requirements.
Top IAF commanders are expected to get a first hand look of the V-22, also known as the Osprey, in the near future, industry sources said.
A senior IAF commander said the aircraft appeared suited for search and rescue operations. The ground forces are revamping the IDF's requirements for light divisions and this aircraft could prove instrumental in the development of that doctrine, the officer said.
The US Pentagon last month approved full production of the V-22 with over 450 expected to be built, most of them slated for the US Marine Corps. The Osprey received a bad reputation after three test craft crashed during trials, killing 28 Marines.
The Air Force has ambitious procurement plans, most of which need to be rethought as the defense budget faces a greater chance of being reduced as Israel's strategic environment continues to improve and there is a greater readiness to divert defense spending.
The Air Force has an aging, Vietnam-era fleet of C-130 transport aircraft that has to be upgraded. Its heavy Ch-53 helicopters are also decades old and approaching the end of their lives. The Air Force is also seeking a new trainer jet and must decide if it will procure more Boeing Apache Longbow attack helicopters.