After a bit of a shaky start to its career, the V-22 Osprey is finally coming into its own. Following news that the Marine Corps could be properly arming the tilt-rotor aircraft in the near future, the USMC has announced that it's also considering a modular aerial refueling system for the V-22.
Bell and Boeing are currently developing the the roll-on, roll-off tanker system which can quickly be installed in any Osprey, depending on the mission requirements, simply by loading it into the plane's cargo hold. This will allow it to refuel a number of combat aircraft while in flight, including the F-18 Hornet and F-35 Lightning II, as well as land to refill ground vehicles or resupply forward operating bases. The V-22 already serves as a troop and cargo transport; the USMC reportedly has no interest of permanently converting any of its $69 million Osprey into dedicated tankers, hence the need for a standalone refueling system.
"The aerial refueling capability is going to be the next thing," Maj. Douglas Thumm, the V-22 Plans Officer at USMC headquarters, said in a press statement. "What's most important is Marines getting in and out of the zone with the equipment that they need. Second, it's being able to support those Marines, and a part of that is the Joint Strike Fighter and the close air support that they provide, and us giving gas to the Joint Strike Fighter helps that."
During a proof of concept flight in August of last year, F-18 pilots reported that the V-22's system—which uses a flexible hose rather than the standard rigid boom—was on par with the current KC-130. Though the KC-130 is slightly less expensive to produce than the V-22 (only $62 million!), they are limited to their singular mission as aerial tankers and require long, paved landing strips. By combining the Osprey's VTOL ability (landing strips be damned) with the KC-130's aerial refueling functionality, the USMC will be able to top off tanks just about anywhere on (or over) Earth. If the system is approved, it could be ready as soon as 2017. [Marine Corps Times]