The U.S. Navy is conducting an assessment of whether the Bell/Boeing MV-22 can operate as a potential Carrier Onboard Delivery (COD) vehicle in advance of kicking off a program to either replace or modernize the C-2A Greyhounds now performing that role.

The tiltrotor is already onboard the carrier Harry S. Truman for the first phase of the assessment, says Rear Adm. William Moran, Navy director for air warfare. Starting April 19, operators will be “conducting palletized cargo and cyclic operations” using the MV-22 on the Truman’s deck. This will include the transfer of passengers, cargo and “cyclic flight operations.

Moran says that officials need to assess whether they can properly “stuff and unstuff” the MV-22 in line with the operations tempo of the carrier air wing, Moran told Aviation Week following testimony before the House Armed Services airland subcommittee hearing April 17.

Later in June, the assessment will enter a second phase in which Navy operational testers will assess the aircraft’s integration into “cyclic operations” on deck for six days. This will be crucial, as the V-22 cannot be allowed to slow the fast pace of operations on deck if it is to be a contender for the COD mission.

Currently, the V-22 and an upgraded C-2, managed by Northrop Grumman, are the two options. Moran says that after the assessment is complete, the Navy will determine whether the MV-22 can compete. If so, a competition is not likely to be funded until the release of the fiscal 2015 budget proposal at the soonest.

If V-22 is not suitable, the Navy will then go through the process of justifying a sole-source purchase of Northrop’s upgraded C-2 aircraft; these would share some common parts with the E-2D Hawkeye surveillance aircraft.

Northrop Grumman officials boast that this commonality is a plus for the aircraft, as it is already capable of maneuvering and parking on the deck with ease. They plan to add the E-2D’s T56-427A engines to the upgraded C-2, as well as new wings, digital avionics and an empennage common with the Hawkeye.

Company officials claim that the modernized “C-2A Greyhound will be half the total ownership cost of any other carrier onboard delivery solution.”

Further, they say, the process of loading and unloading cargo and passengers has been well established by the predecessor C-2A. And they note the cabin would be pressurized, an upgrade that would need to be added to the V-22.

V-22 backers don’t see this as a problem, though, and are not currently planning to offer a pressurized cabin. “The V-22’s 25,000-ft. service ceiling is similar to other turbo-prop aircraft. Passenger flight operations are routinely conducted in the 8,000- to 12,000-ft. mid-altitude ranges where the aircraft operates most efficiently,” says Bill Schroeder, a Bell-Boeing spokesman. “Unpressurized Navy passenger flights are cleared up to 13,000 ft.” He adds that the Block C weather radar, ice protection system and avionics support flying in all-weather/day/night conditions and air conditioning can be used on long flights for passenger comfort.

The V-22 aircraft is capable of operating on the decks of smaller ships (though some certifications remain), allowing for cargo to be directly delivered to them from ashore. Using the C-2, the Navy employs a hub-and-spoke system whereby cargo is shipped to large deck carriers and then hauled by helicopter to smaller ships in the carrier group.

V-22 proponents say that direct delivery of personnel and cargo could garner savings compared to the current operational concept.

Both contractors say that parts and service would be relatively inexpensive, owing to the presence of like aircraft in the fleet. However, neither company has provided concrete cost data for public consumption.

Moran says the Navy has completed an analysis of alternatives to review options for the mission. The COD aircraft in service now are suitable until the late 2020s unless an unforeseen problem crops up, he says.