Like other new AFSOC aircraft, the CV-22 deployed to combat as soon as it reached initial operational capability, or IOC, which was in 2009 with a deployment to Iraq. Since 2010, subsequent combat deployments have been to Afghanistan. Until 2011, there were not enough aircraft and trained people to sustain continuous deployment. Deployment schedules in 2011 were for a continuous deployment to begin in the spring, with the 20th SOS beginning it and turning it over after four months to the 8th SOS.
In late March, world events intervened into the schedule when Operation Odyssey Dawn called for CV-22s to deploy to Europe. The 20th SOS aborted its planned desert train-up time and moved out on a 96-hour deploy order, deploying in three days and 30 hours flying time to Royal Air Force Mildenhall, England, to join the 352nd Special Operations Group in support of the operation. Decisions by the NATO Alliance not to use SOF ground teams to help the Libyan rebels resulted in a decision for the 20th’s CV-22s to remain in Europe, and their planned train-up in the southwest United States became a European orientation to help accustom the people in the area around Mildenhall to the CV-22 – what it looks like, sounds like, and its flight profiles. This anticipates when the aircraft will be permanently assigned to Europe. The aircraft and crews completed their self-deployment to Afghanistan, after two days and 21 hours of flying time, to arrive at Kandahar on May 4.
Employment: Results and Metrics of Performance
Allowed to train unilaterally in the Afghan environment for a couple of weeks, the squadron began supporting operational missions later that month. Lt. Col. Tom Palenske, the squadron commander, relates that from May until the squadron was relieved by the 8th SOS in October, it flew 99 missions with a 99.6 percent success rate on providing the desired numbers of aircraft. The supported Army units captured or killed 307 enemy insurgents, and the Army units had only good things to say about the CV-22, the aircrews, and its maintainers.
The 27th Special Operations Wing commander, Col. Albert M. “Buck” Elton II, said he has received great feedback from the Army customers, as had Fiel. Compliments made toward the people maintaining and flying the aircraft remark on the professionalism of planning and the standardization of procedures that make missions predictable, and actions on the objectives proceed without glitches on almost every mission. Said Palenske, “They like the speed of the aircraft, twice that of a helicopter, and that, like a helicopter, we aren’t limited to runways but can find LZs [landing zones] close to their targets.” The aircraft can range the entire area of operations in fairly short amounts of time; most targets are within 30 minutes of the launch point. Saved time can result in follow-on missions if target exploitation gains information on another target. Speed of action and speed of follow-on planning to another mission can result in greater success if the enemy has less time to communicate and react. (The feedback given to both the wing and squadron commanders remains in the category of oral history; however, as emails and phone calls to Army users of the CV-22 did not result in any who wanted to see their names in print, the compliments to the aircraft and crews are verified, but not attributable.)
They’ve also dealt with the expected problems of brown-out/dust-out landings. Palenske related that the dust-outs are worse than in his helicopter experience, but the cockpit instrumentation and the stability of the CV-22 in a hover help to counter the negative effects. “We’ve had no problem landing on the desired LZs, and current capability of getting imagery and receiving it in our cockpit have ensured safe operation. We did have one operation where one aircraft landed on a berm and collapsed the nose gear. We inspected it closely before flying it out and it did not adversely affect the operation. We stayed low on fuel in order to carry everybody out on fewer aircraft.” He stressed training and crew skill at coping with the dust-outs as crucial to safety and operational success.