The Marine Corps is paying dearly for its bold effort to forge ahead into the future of military hardware. The Corps' prize aircraft, the MV-22 Osprey, suffered its second fatal accident this year Monday when one of them crashed into the woods near Jacksonville, N.C., Monday, killing four Marines.
This tragedy is sure to provide ammunition to longtime critics of the troubled $40 billion program, who have long condemned it as a costly boondoggle. The list of critics once included Vice President-elect Dick Cheney, who unsuccessfully tried to kill the Osprey when he served as secretary of defense in 1989.
If Cheney is still inclined to scrap the program, he'll have another good shot at it next year. Defense Secretary William Cohen is ordering an independent safety, performance and cost review, after which a decision must be made whether to move the experimental half-helicopter, half-airplane hybrid into full production.
However, before tossing the $10 billion already spent on the MV-22 out the window, the administration must weigh Cheney's old doubts against new Pentagon priorities, which favors quick-strike, highly mobile forces against the old-fashioned, ponderous deployments of the past.
The Osprey program, if it ever comes to fruition, fits right in with this new philosophy. It would transform amphibious landings by delivering squads of combatants to a beachhead, in an aircraft flying twice as fast as any helicopter, and depositing them for instant deployment, ready to attack.
It is now up to a panel of outside experts, which will conduct the review, to frankly and honestly assess the Osprey's feasibility. Although it may fly like a plane and hover and land like a helicopter, if it also quacks like a duck it should be scrapped. But if the panel finds the MV-22's problems are correctable, the administration will probably hold its nose and look to the future -- which the Osprey should be a part of.
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