Federal Government Approves $20 Billion Presidential Helicopter ReplacementsPosted: May 9, 2014
Marine One-to-be: An artist’s rendering shows what Sikorsky’s proposed ‘VXX‘ presidential helicopter might look like
For Mail Online, David Martosko reports: The Department of Defense awarded a contract on Wednesday to a Connecticut company that will build a fleet of helicopters to replace the Marine One fleet that ferries U.S. presidents short distances.
The contract, given to Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation, will cost an initial $1,244,677,064 ‘for the engineering and manufacturing development phase of the Presidential Helicopter Replacement program.’ For that price the U.S. Navy will get six test aircraft and all the necessary research & development.
The Pentagon made a similar attempt to replace the aging fleet of Sikorsky choppers, spending $3.2 billion on a landing pad to nowhere.
Adding in the likely $17 billion price tag for the new project – a numberestimated by the Congressional Budget Office – the $20 billion total makes the fleet the most expensive helicopters ever built.
Seeing double? If the current fleet of presidential choppers looks a lot like the new one, it’s because the same company will build them, and it was the only firm to bid on the project
The CBO reports that the projected cost also ‘does not include costs to keep the 19 existing presidential helicopters in operation until they are replaced by new helicopters.’
- The tab for a new helicopter fleet will likely top $20 billion, including $3 billion spent between 2005 and 2009 on a program that was later canceled
- The new contract will buy 23 SIkorsky helicopters at an estimated cost of $400 million each – about the cost of the Air Force One 747 jet
- Duplicate choppers fly as decoys whenever a president takes off from the South Lawn; others are flown to Obama’s travel destinations in advance
- Just one company bid on the project, raising questions about whether the Navy got a fair price
- A former senior Pentagon official said for the price, the new aircraft should have a ‘solid gold toilet … except that it would add too much weight’
During a White House fiscal responsibility summit a month after President Barack Obama took office, Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain mocked the boondoggle helicopter upgrade project that was later shelved.
‘Your helicopter is now going to cost as much as Air Force One,’ McCain said. ‘I don’t think there’s any more graphic demonstration of how good ideas have cost taxpayers an enormous amount of money.’
Obama replied that he had asked then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates for a ‘thorough review of the helicopter situation,’ and joked that he didn’t see the project as very important.
‘The helicopter I have seems perfectly adequate to me,’ he told lawmakers in the room. ‘Of course, I’ve never had a helicopter before. Maybe I’ve been deprived and I didn’t know it.’
The Daily Beast reported Friday that the 23 or more new choppers based on the Sikorsky S-92 medium helicopter will be delivered, but not until 2022.
That means Obama, whose administration has green-lighted the expense, will likely never ride in the shiny new aircraft.
The aircraft will meet exacting standards, including the capability for encrypted communications and secure videoconferencing with people on the ground.
They must also have systems that can defend against missile attacks, and shielding to guard electronic components against energy waves produced by nuclear explosions.
Not exactly bullet-proof: President Dwight Eisenhower was the first to use a helicopter to travel to and from the White House, using this Bell UH-13J Sioux until Sikorsky could deliver a specially designed replacement
All-weather beast with built-in snow blower: Marine One took off in the snow in March with President Obama aboard, en route to Andrews Air Force base
The challenge has proven daunting, even for the most experienced military contractors.