Bell Textron, the manufacturer of the iconic V-22 Osprey transport tiltrotor, is pitching a new tiltrotor platform to the United States military, and this one would be unmanned.
The success of the V-22 platform, in service with the Marine Corps, Air Force, Navy, and the Japan Self-Defense Forces, is something that Bell would no doubt like to replicate. In addition to the Osprey, Bell also has another horse in the tiltrotor race, their V-280 Valor. The V-280 is currently in the running to win the Future Vertical Lift program, an initiative that aims to replace a number of the Army’s aging helicopters with one platform.
Bell can draw on the lessons learned from both of their earlier tiltrotor platforms to design their V-247. Like the V-22 and V-280, Bell’s unmanned drone would have two rotatable rotors, allowing the drone to take off vertically and fly horizontally. One of the potentially game-changing aspects of the V-247? Its range.
One advantage the V-22 has over the older helicopter and turboprop transports it replaced is its very respectable range, which Bell lists as 860 nautical miles, just shy of 1,000 miles. This extended range is a boon to the Navy in particular, as increased resupply ranges allow U.S. Navy ships to have a better force dispersal posture and stay farther out at sea. And, while respectable, the V-22’s range pales in comparison to the V-247.
The V-247’s range? Bell lists its range as 2,500 nautical miles—or nearly 2,900 miles, and almost triple the V-22’s range.
All Eyes on the Pacific
Bell may have designed the V-247 with an eye on the United States Marine Corps. From Guam, the V-247 would have sufficient range to reach virtually all of north and western China as well as the entirety of the South China Sea, as far east as Thailand, and most of the northern half of Australia.
Such extended ranges could come in handy when used in tandem with the Marine Corps’ new Pacific plan, the Marine Littoral Regiment. This new force design, made up of a combat team, an anti-air element, and a logistics group, would see smaller groups of far-flung Marines dotting the Pacific Ocean. Armed to the teeth with new, potent anti-ship capabilities, Marines could in theory do something they haven’t done for a long time: sink ships.
While small groups of highly mobile Marines could be very effective on ocean battlefields in the future, one of the inherent challenges to a fight in the Pacific is distance. How can the Marine Corps keep Marine Littoral Regiments supplied with anti-ship missiles, food, and water in highly contested, far-off maritime environments?
One of the solutions that has been floated before takes a page from narcotrafficers, and would see large numbers of relatively compact, unmanned semisubmersibles take to the seas, loaded to the gills with food and ammunition. Built on the cheap and expendable, autonomous boats could be one solution—and the other could be UAVs like Bell’s V-247.
Caleb Larson is a Defense Writer with The National Interest. He holds a Master of Public Policy and covers U.S. and Russian security, European defense issues, and German politics and culture.