When Defense Secretary Robert Gates put the presidential helicopter program on ice in 2009, he left nine completely built birds sitting in a hangar.
Given the fabulous capabilities required of the VH-71 helicopters -- executive protection plus, hardened and encrypted communications gear, all sorts of neat active protective systems -- it seemed a bit sad that they would just sit under wraps as a symbol of all that's bad about Pentagon acquisition. They did, after all, cost $3.2 billion. (We checked around and it's not clear exactly how many of the VH-71s are completely equipped and ready to fly but it looks like there are at least six.)
Now we hear that one of those agencies that can really use encrypted comms and birds that can do all sorts of nifty things wants to unwrap them and fly them. One of the possible advantages of using these birds is that -- if they are flown without US military markings -- the modified AugustWestland AW101s can be mistaken for helicopters belonging to a number of nations. Also, these helicopters are used for both civil and military applications.
The late Rep. Jack Murtha said when he was chairman of the House Appropriations defense subcommittee that the Navy had to some way to recoup the $3.2 billion spent on the first tranche of the cancelled VH-71 presidential helicopter.
We don't know any more than this, but it would seem a reasonable use of some very expensive hardware with top of the line capabilities and a way to recoup those cost. Perhaps just the thing for flying close to the Pakistani border.