The next US presidential helicopter program will cost less than the $13-billion (R96 billion) program that was cancelled because of its excessive price tag, the Pentagon said.
“We are not going to pursue a program that costs more than the VH-71 program,” Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell told reporters.
He said the Pentagon was still reviewing options but hoped to have the new helicopters fielded by 2020.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates terminated Lockheed Martin Corp’s) VH-71 helicopter program in April. It had become a symbol of President Barack Obama’s drive against costly US defense contracts that he says waste billions of dollars of taxpayer money.
The helicopter program, intended to replace the current fleet of “Marine One” presidential helicopters, was originally designed to provide 23 helicopters at a cost of $6.5 billion (R48 billion).
But the Lockheed helicopter, being build in partnership with AgustaWestland, a unit of Italy’s Finmeccanica SpA, had fallen six years behind schedule and its estimated price tag had soared to more than $13 billion (R96 Billion).
Sikorsky Aircraft, a unit of United Technologies Corp, which made the existing presidential helicopters, had lost the competition to the Lockheed team.
Morrell said the Pentagon was still in the initial stages of working through what the follow-on program should look like.
Some options have been laid out, Morrell said, but added: “None of those options comes close to the $20 billion (R148 billion) figure, and frankly, for that matter, none of them comes close to the cost of the cancelled program.”
Morrell said he was correcting “misinformation” in news reports following comments by a New York lawmaker, Representative Maurice Hinchey, who said the replacement to the cancelled Lockheed program would offer nearly the same capabilities but cost three times more and take longer to deliver.
Hinchey, a Democrat from the state where Lockheed was doing work on the new helicopters, said starting from scratch with a new program would delay fielding the new helicopters until 2024.