Presidential Copter Becomes Symbol
For Defense Programs ‘Gone Amok’
The VH-71 presidential helicopter is in for a
bumpy ride this year as Congress and the administration of President Barack Obama make the embattled program a poster child of all that’s wrong with
Pentagon weapons buying.
In February, Obama called the Navy-run program
an example of defense acquisition programs that have
“gone amok,” adding that his current helicopter —
Marine One — suits him just fine.
“The helicopter I have now seems perfectly adequate
to me,” Obama quipped. “Of course, I’ve never had a
The administration’s way forward on the program
will not be known until later this month, when officials send the much-anticipated details of the
Pentagon’s fiscal 2010 budget to Capitol Hill. But
Obama’s comments, given at the White House’s Feb. 23
fiscal responsibility summit — combined with a vow
from the president soon after about the need to get
control of the Pentagon’s contracting processes — have
many in Washington betting the multibillion-dollar
program will be on the chopping block.
Further fueling speculation over the helicopter’s
future is growing frustration from key decision-makers
on Capitol Hill who have indicated they have little
patience left for the program, which has posted skyrocketing costs and serious schedule delays.
The Navy now estimates the VH-71 presidential helicopter program will cost $13 billion — more than double the
original estimate of $6.1 billion. Skyrocketing costs and
scheduling delays have put the program in serious jeopardy and made it a popular target for critics of the
defense acquisition process.
“We can’t afford to have a helicopter built for the president of the
United States that costs more than
Air Force One,” Senate Armed Services Committee ranking member
John McCain, R-Ariz., said Feb. 24.
The Navy has notified Congress
that the cost of the program is now
estimated at $13 billion — more
than double the original estimate of
$6.1 billion and $1.8 billion over
an estimate provided to Capitol Hill
last year, several congressional
That new estimate brings the
total per-helicopter price to nearly
$470 million. By comparison, the
Air Force’s F- 22 Raptor fighter jet,
the most advanced and expensive
fighter in the service’s history, which
has gone through its share of cost
hikes, totals $340 million a plane.
In 2005, an industry team led by
Lockheed Martin and Agusta-
Westland, a subsidiary of Italian firm
Finmeccanica, beat out Connecticut-based Sikorsky Aircraft for the prized
contract to replace Marine One.
The goal was to take an off-the-shelf helicopter, heavily modify it
and turn it into a fleet of helicopters that serve as a presidential
office-in-the-sky for short trips,
such as those taken from the White
House to Andrews Air Force Base,
Md., or Camp David, Pa. But the