Obama administration to spend $20B on helicopter program to replace his private fleet of 23 choppers
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 number estimated by the Congressional Budget Office – the $20 billion total makes the fleet the most expensive helicopters ever built.
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.’
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.
The challenge has proven daunting, even for the most experienced military contractors.
According to the U.S. Naval Institute, Sikorsky was the only company to bid on the project, raising questions about whether or not the military is paying a fair market price.
A former senior Pentagon official told MailOnline on background that the Department of Defense tried to encourage other aircraft manufacturers to compete for the award, but none were interested.
He joked that for what the military is paying, ‘Marine One should be able to have a solid gold toilet for the president – except that it would add too much weight.’
The need for 23 choppers to serve one president can be explained by the minimum of two decoys – and as many as five – that fly to Andrews Air Force Base whenever he hops from the White House to a waiting Air Force One.
And whenever Obama travels, duplicate helicopters are flown on cargo planes in advance, so one can be fueled and waiting when the plane touches down.