The Navy on Wednesday awarded Sikorsky Aircraft an initial $1.24 billion contract to build six presidential helicopters that would begin to replace the current aging fleet, known for delivering heads of state on the South Lawn of the White House.
The contract is the Navy’s second attempt in recent years to develop a new fleet of Marine One helicopters and will be closely monitored by watchdogs and members of Congress. In 2009, the Pentagon killed the previous contract after costs doubled to $13 billion and cost taxpayers $3.2 billion and did not produce an operable helicopter.
At the time, newly elected President Obama said the program was “an example of the procurement process gone amok.”
Defense officials have vowed to get it right this time. They said the new helicopters won’t be nearly as ambitious, or expensive, as the versions of helicopters they tried to build last time.
But some are worried that there appears to have been just one bidder this time, Sikorsky, a division of United Technologies, which built the current presidential helicopters. Sikorsky lost out on the previous contract to a team of AgustaWestland and Lockheed Martin. Lockheed will work with Sikorsky on the new contract.
“For 57 years, our company has been trusted with the critical responsibility of building and supporting a safe and reliable helicopter fleet for the President of the United States,” Sikorsky President Mick Maurer said in a statement. “We are proud of our record and the bright future for our company. We stand ready to deliver the next Marine One, the world’s most advanced executive transport helicopter.”
By 2019, the Navy is expected to begin ordering the rest of the 21-helicopter fleet, which is expected to be ready by 2023, the company said.