Hybrid aircraft due
in isles by 2013

The arrival date is at least
six years later than first projected

Lt. Gen. Wallace Gregson, who assumed command of Marines in Hawaii and the Pacific on Aug. 2, said yesterday that the Osprey will be key for the force.

The Army in Hawaii hopes to receive several hundred 20-ton Stryker combat vehicles. The Air Force awaits a squadron of eight C-17 jet transports while the Navy explores locating an aircraft carrier and an air wing to the islands.

For the Marines it will be the long-delayed V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft that still remains its No. 1 aviation acquisition despite being plagued by controversy for more than a decade.

They are part of the changes facing the military in Hawaii.

Lt. Gen. Wallace Gregson, who assumed command of the 74,000 Marines in Hawaii and the Pacific on Aug. 2, told reporters yesterday that the Osprey -- which flies like a plane but lands like a helicopter -- is part of the Marine Corps' transformation in Hawaii.

Gregson's Camp Smith office said Marine Aircraft Group 24 at Kaneohe Bay should get its first five Ospreys in 2013, with three squadrons of 12 aircraft each two years later -- at least six years later than originally projected. The Osprey ran into problems and was grounded for 17 months while it underwent a design change following two fatal crashes in 2000 that killed a total of 23 Marines.

The V-22 flight tests resumed two years later. Gregson said the Osprey is supposed to replace the Marines' aging CH-53D Sea Stallions and CH-46 helicopters.

The Osprey, an experimental high-speed aluminum catamaran that would transport Marines, and a squadron of F-18 Hornet jets as part of an aircraft carrier battle group are possibilities for the future for Hawaii Marines, Gregson said.

Gregson said that although no large numbers of the 7,500 Marines stationed in Hawaii were sent to Iraq earlier this year, many contributed indirectly to the war effort by filling in for the Marines sent there.

"The forces in Hawaii have picked up a higher operational and deployment tempo to fill in for other forces stationed in the western Pacific who were unable to fulfill their commitments due to the war in Iraq," the 1968 Naval Academy graduate said.

"There are now two battalions from the 3rd Marine Regiment from Kaneohe Bay on the Windward side which have been deployed to the western Pacific," Gregson said. "That is twice the normal rate."

Gregson, who left as commander of the 17,000 Marines on Okinawa in July, does not see the United States leaving that island in the near future despite continual demands from Okinawan leaders, including Gov. Keiichi Inamine, to sever his country's 58-year relationship with the United States. Gregson said he renewed his friendship with Inamine during 30 minutes with him at Gregson's Camp Smith headquarters while Inamine attended the Worldwide Uchinanchu Convention in August.

"At its most basic level," Gregson said "the governor and I completely agree on trying to find ways to enhance the welfare and well-being of all the citizens of Okinawa," Gregson said. "In many, many ways, we enjoy a much stronger support for our presence than is commonly believed."


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