Old Troubles for the New Presidential Helicopter | Citizens Against Government Waste

Old Troubles for the New Presidential Helicopter

The WasteWatcher

The Marine Corps has been attempting to replace its fleet of presidential helicopters, responsible for transporting the President, Vice President, foreign heads of state, and other officials since January 2005.  The existing fleet of helicopters consists of two versions, which entered service in 1975 and 1989, and the distinct green and white aircraft are regularly seen buzzing around the nation’s capital.

The initial replacement program kicked off with the selection of Lockheed Martin’s VH-71.  However, this plan was canceled in 2009 following substantial delays and cost growth.  Congress began funding a new presidential helicopter replacement program in fiscal year 2010, culminating in the choice of the VH-92, jointly manufactured by Lockheed Martin in Owego, New York, and Sikorsky Aircraft in Stratford, Connecticut.  The procurement is worth $5 billion for 23 aircraft.

Unfortunately, the more things change, the more they stay the same, as the VH-92 is floundering.  The Pentagon’s Director of Operational Test and Evaluation, the agency’s chief testing office, reported that the VH-92 is “failing to meet the reliability, availability or maintainability threshold requirements.”

The helicopter is deemed effective for “administrative” missions like those involving routine flights to Camp David or the short trip to Air Force One, but has not been cleared for “contingency operation missions,” the report’s euphemism for emergency operations.  The vessel’s communications system “often delayed critical communications at the beginning of contingency missions and did not adequately support timely, continuous and secure communications.”

As with so many Department of Defense acquisition programs, contractors have thus far over promised and under delivered on the presidential helicopter.  In the meantime, the VH-92, which has cost $1.5 billion so far, continues to scorch the White House lawn.  A June 2020 Government Accountability Office report found that “heat from the auxiliary power unit and/or engine exhaust continue to damage the lawn under certain conditions.”  The Marine Corps must provide a timely solution to the difficulties experienced during contingency operations.  Otherwise, burnt grass will be the least of its problems.

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