On April 6 of this year, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates made one good decision and one bad one. The good one was to terminate the program to build a new presidential helicopter, the VH-71. The program cost had doubled over four years to over $13 billion because the customer (the U.S. Navy working for the White House) had asked for some 800 changes from the original design.
The bad decision was the same one. The VH-71 helicopter met or exceeded all the Navy’s performance requirements and is the only helicopter available today, or in the medium term, that could make this claim. Five Increment One production versions of the VH-71 have already been delivered. The Increment One helicopters are much safer, faster, longer-range and more robust than the current presidential helicopters.
The smarter decision would have been to rescope the program and produce the rest of the required fleet (23 additional VH-71s) in the Increment One configuration. Instead, by canceling the program, the Navy is stuck with five VH-71s and now has to return to the drawing board, wasting the three billion dollars already invested in the VH-71, requiring the expenditure of billions of additional dollars for a new development program and delaying the acquisition of a new helicopter by many years.
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