The International Herald-Tribune has the scoop on how the Stimulus money is already being used – and “Buy American” isn’t even in the plan.
Obama confronts a choice on copters
By Peter Baker; February 16, 2009
WASHINGTON: President Barack Obama has slammed high-flying executives traveling in cushy jets at a time of economic turmoil. But soon he will have to decide whether to proceed with some of the priciest aircraft in the world — a new fleet of 28 Marine One helicopters that will each cost more than the last Air Force One.
A six-year-old project to build state-of-the-art presidential helicopters has bogged down in a contracting quagmire that will challenge Obama’s desire to rein in military contracting expenses. The Pentagon awarded a contract in 2005 to Lockheed Martin, even though it had never built helicopters, reasoning that a three-engine model produced by its British-Italian partner, called the EH-101, provided a useful foundation. In doing so, the Pentagon bypassed Sikorsky Aircraft, the contractor since the Eisenhower era. Representative Rosa DeLauro, a Democrat from Connecticut, where Sikorsky is based, said she believed the Bush administration wanted to reward Britain and Italy for support in Iraq.
The VH-71 project was divided into two increments, a quick first batch of five new helicopters with the same or better equipment as the current fleet, to be followed by 23 much more sophisticated craft that would ultimately take over flying the president. But the Pentagon issued a stop-work order at the end of 2007 on the second increment as costs continued to rocket upward. Divided by 28 helicopters, the overall cost works out to $400 million per aircraft, roughly the same as the $410 million that the government paid in 1990 for the latest two Air Force One jetliners plus a hangar.
The notice to Congress last month means the program must now be recertified by Gates to proceed. DeLauro and other members of the Connecticut delegation wrote the navy last week asking it to consider reopening the bidding on the contract or turning part of it over to Sikorsky. Critics said Obama should pull the plug. “The VH-71 is a waste of time, money and resources,” said Lieutenant Colonel Gene Boyer, a retired army pilot who flew three presidents, including Nixon on the flight after his resignation.
Sestak said the project underscored the larger failure to accurately assess the cost of military projects in advance and urged Obama to tackle the problem. “If he puts the right accountability system in there — not monitoring but enforcement — then I think he can say rightly that the fleet is not for Obama, it is for the presidency,” Sestak said.
In addition to rising costs, delays and engineering issues have plagued the VH-71’s development.[ During the ongoing CSAR-X contract controversy (in which the EH101 is LMSI’s offering), the Air Force source selection authority has, on several occasions, referred to Lockheed’s VH-71 program as having “unsatisfactory performance”. These concerns with the VH-71 have caused the Air Force to cast doubts on LMSI’s ability to supply helicopters for a potential CSAR program award; in March 2007 the initial GAO report which upheld Sikorsky and Lockheed’s contract award protests versus Boeing’s HH-47 mentioned “that LMSI had received a little confidence rating for past performance due to unsatisfactory performance under its current contract for the VH-71 Presidential helicopter.
In December 2007, DoD officials met with the White House Military Office. The White House overruled a cancellation decision and the program was essentially put on hold while options are considered. As of July 2008, the VH-71A, also called increment 1, is to reach operating capability in 2010. The second phase of the development, VH-71B or increment 2 is expected to start entering service in 2017.
In October 2008, while commenting on defense programs likely to be cut or even canceled by the incoming Obama administration, John Young (Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics) mentioned that the VH-71, being a high-profile project staggering under significant cost growth, “is very high on that list”.
Somehow, I seriously doubt that.The current Marine One helicopters were built in the 1950’s and entered Marine One service in 1962, and despite upgrades over the years are beginning to seriously strain the military procurement system as they far overreach the end of their service life. The old H-3’s just don’t have suppliers willing to make parts for them any more.
Personally, my choice would be for the new Marine One would be for an American-designed and built aircraft. One roomy enough for all the equipment and spacious enough for the President to ride comfortably. Perhaps one with enough range and speed to double as an impromptu Air Force One for short trips?
Twice as roomy as the old H-3’s, and a brand-new aircraft (for long service life) with plenty of hardened service experience in Iraq and Afghanistan, with speed twice that of any other helicopter, the Osprey is a uniquely American aircraft that will make a valuable impression of American ingenuity, engineering, and brainpower wherever it is seen.
And we could have them flying the President in a few months – not in 2017 for crying out loud.
Buy American Mister President – or will that promise end up on the cutting room floor like the “transparency” promise, and the “view all bill online five days” promise?