President Addresses Helicopter Upgrade Program

Some might suspect sour grapes, but at an economic summit earlier this week, Senator John McCain questioned whether his rival in last November's presidential election really needs $11.2 billion worth of new helicopters. In 2005, then-President Bush pressed for upgraded rotorcraft for the presidential mission. In light of the September 11 attacks, John Young, assistant secretary of the Navy for research, development and acquisition, said that Bush, "needs a more survivable helicopter while the nation engages in the global war on terrorism." Young has since decried the acquisition as an example of how not to spend government money. The program at that time called for 23 AgustaWestland-based US101 rotorcraft priced out at a total of $6.1 billion. In the years since, the number has swelled to 28 and the overall price tag nearly doubled. The U.S. Navy granted a contract to Lockheed Martin as lead contractor for the three-engine rotorcraft, disappointing Connecticut-based Sikorsky, which had supplied helicopters for the presidential mission for decades, including the current fleet of modified VH-60Ns (based on the military UH-60 Black Hawk). For his part, President Obama rolled with McCain's punch-joking that since he had never had a helicopter, perhaps he "was deprived and I never knew it." The president said the contract for a new presidential helicopter fleet represented government procurement "gone amok" and allowed as how the current fleet of decades-old Sikorskys seemed "perfectly adequate."