VH-71 Conundrum

I'm not sure how I feel about this story, but I think it's worth discussing here.

So the White House launched a program to replace its ageing fleet of VH-3D Marine One helicopters with a Lockheed/Augusta version several years ago. All the whistles and bells were included on the newer version, including all that expensive nuclear hardening technology.

But soon requirements increased and costs ballooned out of control until finally DefSec Gates had enough. With a boss who let him have what he wanted, Gates decided to cancel the new helicopter after five had been pretty much built and four more were near completion.

According to HAC-D chairman John Murtha, the Secret Service was to blame for the requirements creep and cost increases. They loaded on all kinds of things the VH-71 had to be able to do and tied program engineers in knots. His logic is, fine, let's have a new program, but let's keep the ones we have so we don't throw the baby out with the bath water.

But the White House is threatening to veto the defense bill over a House initiative to keep the nine in the pipeline going. According to my friend Jen DiMascio at Politico...

If the final bill were to include funds that continue the existing VH-71 program or would prejudge the plan to re-compete the presidential helicopter program, the presidents senior advisers would recommend that he veto the bill, the White House said in a Statement of Administration Policy.

But looking ahead to a House debate Thursday over the defense spending bill, supporters of the VH-71 are parsing the presidents veto threat, hoping to find wiggle room to keep the program aloft with $400 million the cost to get five partially completed birds in the air, supporters say.

We have five that are close to 70 percent complete and four more that are less developed. You have at least nine of these that should be completed, said Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-N.Y.), who paints his position in economic terms.

More than $3.2 billion has already been spent on the VH-71. If it were eliminated, up to $4 billion would be completely wasted, Hinchey said. In contrast, he said, starting a new program could cost $14 billion to $22 billion. The whole thing is just so illogical.

Now, that makes sense to me. We've already paid for some pretty high speed executive helos, so why not use them, right? But I see Gates' point too. If you're going to recompete the program, doesn't it naturally prejudice the competition if you already have fielded planes from one of the manufacturers. And what does it do for the logistics and maintenance pipeline to have more than one helo servicing the Marine One mission? It becomes a pretty expensive pain in the butt.

So I'm open to consider either option and would like to hear where you all come down on this. Clearly it's time to replace the Marine One fleet and I'm sick of hearing "service life extension program" whispering through the halls. Those ALWAYS come out more expensive than they're billed and we need to roger up and build a new plane for a critical mission.

-- Christian

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