GAO Says Weight And Costs Keep Rising
Pentagon and Navy officials are projecting Lockheed Martin will
overspend on its development contract for a new presidential
helicopter by at least 34 percent.
Lockheed Martin won the $1.79 billion contract in January 2005.
According to Navy and the Defense Contract Management Agency, the
costs for system design and construction of initial helicopters
needed by October 2009 and more capable choppers for 2015 are
estimated to total at least $2.4 billion.
According to the Washington Post, officials have repeatedly said
the VH-71 aircraft is on a fast track schedule -- faster than the
usual timetable for a major defense program by a good three years.
The VH-71 will replace helicopters currently used for executive
branch travel, all of which are at least 40 years old.
Part of the reason for the increased cost is from delays caused
by disagreements between the Bethesda defense contractor and the
Navy over helicopter capabilities, according to officials.
"Typically Defense Department programs have aggressive
schedules, but the presidential helicopter is even more aggressive
than we are used to seeing," Paul Francis, director of acquisition
and sourcing management for the Government Accountability Office,
From the beginning, the Navy and Lockheed Martin "didn't seem to
be on the same page in terms of what the requirements were and what
exactly Lockheed was required to deliver," Francis said. "What we
are seeing is that they can't deliver the aircraft with those
capabilities in that amount of time at those costs."
As a result, Francis said, weight, as well as cost, keeps
The aircraft has grown by 1,200 pounds over the 30,350-pound
design weight, according to the GAO. The $6.1 billion program
envisions buying 20 helicopters.
The Navy program office, in an unclassified quarterly report,
stated, "Performance risks are a direct result of continuing weight
growth since contract award." The fear is the chopper will not meet
the required weight and airspeed goals.
Lockheed Martin is making an entirely new helicopter for the
presidential project, based on a model from the AgustaWestland unit
of Finmeccanica in Italy.