In what may be a clear sign of how difficult U.S. companies think working with European companies will be in the wake of the tanker competition, Lockheed Martin is teaming up with Sikorksy to build the really new version of the presidential helicopter.
Lockheed teamed with AgustaWestland in the previous competition to build the new helo. This time, they did not team with a foreign company. And Rep. Norm Dicks, who has battled the biggest European defense company throughout the tanker competition, is probably happy that AgustaWestland's parent firm Finmeccanica is not involved this time. Are American companies concluding that partnering with foreign firms is too politically painful just when the Obama administration is striving mightily -- at least rhetorically -- to fundamentally change the arms export process in part to improve relations with our allies?
The previous presidential helo program managed to produce nine birds even after the Secret Service loaded the Navy program with new requirements, driving the program's cost sky high and eventually leading to the program's demise. (By the way, why is everyone so reluctant to mention the Secret Service and its role in the program?)
The Navy remains the acquisition authority for what is now called the VXX Presidential Helicopter program. Hopefully, the service will stand up to the Secret Service this time and remind them of basic things like physics and cost. An official statement from the two companies did contain a hopeful statement. " We're thrilled to team with Lockheed Martin to provide taxpayers and the U.S. government with a common sense solution for the next presidential aircraft both in terms of economy and technology," Scott Starrett, president of Sikorsky Military Systems, said in a statement.
Sikorsky will build the helo and Lockheed takes on the role of major subsystems supplier. They "jointly submitted a response today" to the Navy's request for information.
The teaming arrangement isn't limited to the VXX, according to a statement the companies put out. A reminder -- Sikorsky is part of United Technologies, parent company to Pratt & Whitney, supplier of the Joint Strike Fighter engine program of record. You can bet UT's Washington operations people will be working overtime on the VXX, making sure the White House and Navy and Congress are all happy with each other. And they still have to work Congress on the second engine.