Navy leaders are in the midst of a series of studies to see whether the MV-22 can be flown off the sea service’s expected fleet of Afloat Forward Staging Base (AFSB) ships.
Officials at Naval Sea Systems Command are in the “study stages on [MV]-22 integration” aboard the first AFSB under development, Capt. Henry Stevens, head of Strategic and Theater Sealift program, said Thursday.
The current program of record has tagged the MH-53E Sea Dragon mine countermeasure as the main aviation asset for the Navy’s forward staging base ship.
Testing and qualification for MH-53E ops aboard the initial AFSB ships are slated to begin in fiscal year 2016, Stevens said during a briefing at the Surface Navy Association’s 2014 symposium in Crystal City, Va.
“We are already locked in on that and starting off,” Stevens added, regarding the upcoming helo tests aboard the ship.
But the possible multi-mission capabilities the forward staging bases could provide the Navy and other services has prompted program leaders to explore other options outside the Sea Dragons.
“Now [the Navy] is asking us what else we can do,” in terms of air capability, according to Stevens. “And it is great to be part of those conversations.”
Stevens’ comments come as the Navy is still running into issues with integrating the Osprey and F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) onto its amphibious fleet.
Deck damage issues related to jet engine downwash from the Osprey and F-35 have long plagued the Navy’s efforts to get those aircraft aboard the large-deck amphibs.
The B variant of the F-35 is a short take-off and vertical landing (STOVL) aircraft that produces much more heat when it lands and takes off than the current AV-8B Harrier fighters currently flown off of big deck amphibs.
Likewise, the exhaust heat from the nacelles of the Osprey has damaged flight decks in the past.
On Thursday, Stevens dismissed plans to integrate the JSF onto the AFSB noting that program leaders were fully focused on getting the MH-53E, and possibly the MV-22, qualified aboard the forward staging base ships.