As a result, the craft could be more vulnerable to attack, and may result in the Marines keeping it out of the thick of battle, using it instead for less dangerous tasks. “They will plan their missions in Iraq to avoid it getting into areas where there are serious threats,” said Thomas Christie, the Pentagon’s director of Operations, Test and Evaluation from 2001 to 2005, who is now retired. “The net result is that this is what we paid for – and paid through the nose.” The V-22’s debut on the battlefield ends a remarkable 25-year struggle for the Marines to build a craft they could call their own. In announcing the Iraq deployment Friday, Marine Commandant Gen. James Conway referred to those efforts as “a road marked by some setbacks, lots of sacrifices and the success of these Marines standing before you.” The V-22 has been the Marines’ priority – the Pentagon has spent $20 billion so far and has budgeted $54.6 billion for it. The money has bought a craft that is half-helicopter, half-airplane and whose speed, say the Marine Corps, will save lives. But the V-22 has also suffered some of the deadliest test crashes in Marine history. It has claimed 30 lives, 26 of them Marines, in three test-flight crashes. A fourth V-22 crashed, but that incident was not fatal. Many more have been damaged in lesser mishaps involving fires, stalled engines and software problems. Critics say the V-22’s unusual design can create deadly problems that the Marines have minimized in their single-minded pursuit of the craft. “It’s like a bad poker hand and the Marines have been investing in it for 20 years,” said Philip Coyle, the Pentagon’s top weapons tester from 1994 to 2001. “They might have been better if they invested in brand new helicopters.” The plane’s most widely cited design problem is that one of its propellers can get caught in its own turbulence as it comes in for a landing, which can cause the V-22 to roll over and head into the ground. For that reason, V-22 pilots are trained to steer clear of their own turbulence by rules prohibiting them from making the quick maneuvers used by helicopters to evade enemy fire. Instead, the V-22 must land at speeds as slow as 9 mph and in a fairly straight line. A 2005 Pentagon report said these limitations “may prove insufficient” in protecting the V-22 from ground fire.160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! The Marine Corps said Friday that the V-22 Osprey, a hybrid aircraft with a troubled past, will be sent to Iraq this September, where it will see combat for the first time. But because of a checkered safety record in test flights, the V-22 will be kept on a short leash. The Pentagon has placed so many restrictions on how it can be used in combat that the plane – which is able to drop troops into battle like a helicopter and then speed away from danger like an airplane – could have difficulty fulfilling the Marines’ long-standing mission for it. In Iraq, the V-22 will begin to replace the Vietnam-era helicopters that are increasingly facing enemy fire. The limitations on the V-22, which cost $80 million apiece, mean it cannot evade enemy fire with the same maneuvers and sharp turns used by helicopter pilots.