In a first for Marine Osprey aviation, pilots successfully landed MV-22B Ospreys tiltrotor aircraft aboard a Dutch ship June 12during an exercise off the East Coast North Carolina coast . It is an important incremental step in the new plan to deploy leathernecks aboard European allies' vessels. towards a plan to offset U.S. Navy amphibious ship shortages by stationing crisis response Marines aboard European ships.

Members of Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 261 conducted the landings on the Dutch amphibious support ship Karel Doorman, near the squadron's home at Marine Corps Air Station New River, North Carolina, on Friday.

The tests they conducted included five landings on the Karel Doorman and a refuel check to confirm the Osprey's compatibility with the foreign ship. It went off without a hitch, said a pilot with the unit who added that in some ways it was easier to fly off the Dutch ship than an American amphib.

"They utilize what they call an 'oblique' approach which is very similar to landing on a U.S. ship," said Capt. Matthew Thompson, the pilot who conducted the test landings, referring to a method in which an aircraft pulls up next to the ship and then lands from the side. "One difference is that they also utilize a 'stern to bow' approach to the center of the ship which I actually found to be a much easier approach."

Other differences included fewer landing spots on the deck -- just two instead of four. It was a small loss in capability Thompson said, but greatly simplified movement on the deck.

The test is an important milestone leading up to operational tests set to take place in European area of responsibility this fall as leaders look to deploy Marines aboard NATO allies' ships. As part of what leaders are calling the Allied Maritime Basing Initiative, Marines will first conduct Osprey certifications in September aboard an Italian amphib. Later, mMore qualification will be conducted aboard a British gator in November. Other testing, still being planned, will include ships from the Spanish, French and Dutch navies.

Beyond testing basic interoperability, those later exercises will certify the Osprey is cleared to operate on specific foreign ships — provided they are compatible with their decks and those ships have hangars large enough to can house fit the large tiltrotor aircraft below deck. The recent testing near North Carolina did not include hangar testing. in their hangars

The idea behind the certifications and the Allied Maritime Basing Initiative is to get some of the 1,700 land-based Marines assigned to Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force-Crisis Response-Africa afloat again. Those Marines are currently split between Spain, Italy and Romania.

It's a move Marine leaders hope will cut down on their response time when deploying to protect U.S. facilities and personnel in Africa, while also helping to calm NATO U.S. allies in Eastern Europe, that who are troubled by Russian saber-rattling in the region.

The Corps' crisis response unit for Africa SPMAGTF-CR-AF was created in 2013 to make up for the loss of the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit, which used to float in the Mediterranean Sea. That unit at the ready to respond to crisis, but was called away to operating in the U.S. Central Command area of operations.

"Historically we had a MEU aboard an [Amphibious Ready Group] located in the [Mediterranean Sea], but requirements elsewhere globally have taken that resource out of Med where it was readily available for deployment to European and Africa Command," Brig. Gen. Norm Cooling, the deputy commander of Marine Forces Europe and Africa, said.

That makes it important to get Marines afloat, with Osprey support, he said. A land-based unit is useful, but does not match the power of having Marines at sea a MEU afloat.

Dutch commanders expressed enthusiasm for the testing, saying that they have experience supporting Marines already ashore, but this provides the ability to launch a force from the sea.

"The Osprey is capable of doing large airlifts at a time, instead of a smaller helicopter — an Osprey can take much more personnel back to shore," said Dutch Capt. Peter van den Berg, the ship's commanding officer, in the Marine news release.

Marine leaders said operating aboard off allied ships allows them more platforms they can launch from with an eye toward future conflict in littoral areas. It is a mission emphasized under the new Expeditionary Force 21 concept of operations, which includes small-scale, fast-paced operations and a shift towards Africa and the Asia-Pacific region after more than a decade of large-scale land warfare in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Expeditionary Force 21 emphasizes the Corps' return to its amphibious roots since more than 80 percent of the world's population lives within 100 miles of a coast, making it likely that Marines will be called on to operate in those areas.

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