An Anti-Submarine V-22 for the US Navy?

First CMV-22B for the US Navy (photo by: Rodney Bastow)

While the US Marine Corps and US Air Force have long been users of their respective V-22 variants, the US Navy just recently conducted the maiden flight of its very first CMV-22B. The CMV-22 will be replacing the C-2 Greyhound in the Carrier Onboard Delivery (COD) role, starting sometime in the mid 2020s. However, there’s potential for the CMV-22B, and the V-22 airframe in general, to do far more for the Navy than just COD.

Back in the late 1980s as the V-22 program was still in its infancy, the US Navy began studying using it as an anti-submarine warfare (ASW) aircraft, to replace the aging S-3 Vikings from the early 1970s. However, as the Cold War came to an end, the threat from Soviet submarines dropped near instantly, and the US defense budget dropped almost just the same. This meant there was no real justification for such a high priced item against a threat that no longer really existed. Because of that, the idea was shelved and never addressed again.

Flash forward to today, and the Navy is finally procuring V-22s some 40 years later, as it is also looking at increasing tensions with an impressive subsurface fleet in China. However, the V-22s being procured are as of so far strictly for COD, while the primary long range ASW asset of the carrier air wing (CVW) no longer exists. The S-3 Vikings were pulled from carriers back in 2009, and stopped being focused on ASW somewhere in the mid 1990s. What that means is today, the only aviation based ASW asset a CVW has, is its handful of SH-60 Seahawks. While the Seahawks are impressive ASW aircraft in their own right, they simply lack the range to effectively screen the waters for submarines in defense of the carrier strike group. There’s simply too much water and too few Seahawks with not enough range to be as effective at the job as the Navy requires.

Because of this, it’s time to begin looking at the SV-22 again, potentially as an airframe dedicated to the roll, but more preferably as a roll-on/roll-off (RORO) kit. While COD is a critical mission for a carrier, allowing it to grab supplies and spare parts without having to pull into port, the simple reality is that the CMV-22Bs, like the C-2s they’re replacing, won’t be operating nonstop. If an ASW RORO kit is developed for them, then a CMV-22B not being utilized for COD could be converted over into a long ranged ASW asset for the carrier in just a few hours. The number of CMV-22Bs attached to a CVW as it stands, will likely mimic the C-2, with two per carrier. Say that’s bumped up to six. While that is an increase of four aircraft per carrier, where space is at a premium, you’re getting six long ranged ASW assets, or a mix of long ranged ASW and COD as needed. It offers flexibility that the Navy long desires in airframes, due to the space premium on carriers. Long gone are the days where a CVW contained:

Today it’s just:

As the Navy has heavily prioritized multirole aircraft as part of their CVWs to simplify logistics. Developing an ASW RORO kit for the CMV-22Bs makes perfect sense in line with that thinking and prioritization, in that it’s allowing a single airframe to perform multiple desperately needed roles for the Navy.

CMV-22B can transport up to 6000lb, and get 1200nmi on internal fuel alone. An MH-60 maxes at just 6000lb, and tops at just 450nmi. A RORO kit is absolutely going to take up more space than a permanent fixture just due to the nature of having to be removable, but the CMV-22B has over 700 cubic square feet in its cargo bay, which is more than enough for an ASW RORO kit. As proof of that, we only need to look as the US Marine Corps aerial refueling RORO kit for their MV-22s.

The only hindrance a CMV-22B would have in performing ASW is the lack of external hardpoints for weapons. While the US Marine Corps has conducted testing with a front mounted hardpoint for 70mm rockets, it’s not really suitable for a Mk 46/50/54 torpedo. Instead, the CMV-22B could copy what the Marine Corps use on the KC-130J. The KC-130J is primarily a C-130J used aerial refueling. However, the Marine Corps developed a close air support (CAS) RORO kit for them, allowing the KC-130J to provide CAS when not in use for tanking, in what’s known as the KC-130J Harvest HAWK.

Missile rack on a KC-130J Harvest HAWK (photo by: Lance Cpl. Scott L. Tomaszycki)

Something akin to that missile rack (sometimes referred to the ORD Gunslinger) for a pair of torpedoes, would effectively solve the armaments issue the CMV-22B would have in performing ASW. On top of simply carrying torpedoes however, the rack could also be used for the deployment of AN/SSQ-47B sonobouys.

The ability to utilize sonobouys would be huge for the CMV-22B, as it wouldn’t be forced to go into a hover and deploy its dipping sonar. It could maintain a cruising speed at 15,000ft, and listen for any submarines from a net of sonobouys across a wide area. Not only would the CMV-22Bs range help allow it to perform ASW at ranges outside the reach of the Seahawks, but the ability to employ sonobouys would allow it to search a larger amount of water as well.

As it stands today, the only long range ASW asset in the entire Navy is the P-8 Poseidon. While the P-8 is arguably the single best ASW aircraft in the world today, its dependency on land based runways makes its ability to screen for carriers, particularly in potentially contested waters like those of the South China Sea, somewhat of a limited asset. A RORO ASW kit for the CMV-22B would not have that same issue, as it could be deployed as part of the CVW itself, so whereever the carrier goes, the CMV-22B and its RORO kit go.

An ASW RORO kit for the CMV-22B could be just the asset the Navy needs in the potential conflict it’s preparing itself for today. Long ranged carrier-based ASW is a crucial role that the Navy has effectively abandoned ever since the collapse of the USSR, but that could be changed in just a few months.

Just a US Navy veteran, ranting about the military and military technology.