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Gates Mulls Two Prez Choppers

We may have two presidential helicopter programs in our future, not just one. That's what Defense Secretary Robert Gates told the House Appropriations defense subcommittee in a Tuesday afternoon hearing.

One helo would fly the president and aides to Camp David and other standard presidential venues. The other would be used to evacuate the president in a crisis. We think they would have to call it Rescue 1. Gates said he heard about the idea this morning and was intrigued by it.

Several subcommittee members tried to get Gates to take back the idea of killing the VH-71 program but Gates made it pretty clear he wants to have nothing more to do with the effort, which crumbled under a plethora of requirements dumped on it by White House security types. Gates called the VH-71 "a poster child for an acquisition program gone terribly wrong."

While the new effort gets better defined, the Pentagon plans to spend about $1.2 billion to keep the current presidential fleet flying.

Gates' press secretary, Geoff Morrell, told us before the hearing started that the White House military office, the undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics and the Navy would guide the new program. The requirements would come primarily from the Secret Services, as they did before, funneled through the military office. Rep. Jack Murtha, chairman of the subcommittee, told Gates he had to keep an eye on the Secret Service and make sure they didn't let requirements get out of control again.

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