What a difference a day makes.
Less than 24 hours after Eurocopter CEO Lutz Bertling expressed confidence that the Obama Administration will give the go-ahead to the VH-71 presidential helicopter, even though costs for it have nearly doubled to $11.2 billion, that prospect darkened when the president called it an example of Bush Administration military procurement “gone amok.”
The president said the iconic Sikorsky Marine One helicopter fleet, used by the White House for some 25 years, “seems perfectly adequate” at a meeting with Congressional leaders about fiscal responsibility. He did not rule out finishing the program, but did say that he has asked Defense Secretary Robert Gates for a “thorough review of the helicopter situation.” That was described by a Washington Post staff writer as “a shot across the bow of large defense contractors such as Lockheed Martin.” The VH-71 is a shared program between AgustaWestland and Lockheed Martin.
Billions of dollars already have been spent to develop the VH-71 helicopter fleet, as technical problems repeatedly have forced restructuring of the program. The aircraft weighs too much and is to include sophisticated electronic gear that has not yet been developed, halting key work while the Pentagon reassesses not only its design, but its necessity. Former Pentagon procurement officers have said that White House security people repeatedly added highly complex security requirements to the project, to the point that one VH-71 now would cost more than one of the presidential 747s used as Air Force One.