United Technologies Corp.'s Sikorsky Aircraft unit won a $1.24 billion U.S. Navy contract to begin developing a new fleet of presidential helicopters.
The Defense Department announced the sole-source deal on Wednesday evening as part of its daily disclosure of contracting activity. The agreement calls for supplying the Marine Corps with six S-92 aircraft and two training simulators -- the first step in building a 21-chopper fleet over the next decade.
"We are honored by this news and the vote of confidence in the Sikorsky team and the proven S-92 platform," Sikorsky President Mick Maurer said in a statement.
Sikorsky was the only company to bid on the program after other companies such as Boeing Co. and Northrop Grumman Corp. dropped out of the competition, citing narrowly defined requirements that favored the incumbent. Sikorsky has supplied the U.S. presidential helicopter fleet since 1957.
The helicopter squadron tasked with ferrying the president and executive personnel, known as Marine Helicopter Squadron One, or HMX-1, and based at Quantico, Virginia, details the origin of the presidential mission on its website.
President Dwight Eisenhower was on vacation, presumably at his Rhode Island summer home, and was "urgently needed back at the White House," the site states. "What would have been a two hour motorcade trip was reduced to a seven minute helicopter ride." Any helicopter in the fleet carrying the president is known by the call sign, "Marine One."
The latest competition wasn't the Pentagon's first attempt to upgrade the presidential helicopter fleet, which includes the VH-3D Sea King, VH-60N White Hawk and the MV-22B Osprey. (The latter, however, isn't authorized to transport the president.)
Then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates in 2009 canceled the Navy's VH-71 program due to "cost growth, schedule delays, and a projected shortfall in system performance," according to a report last month from the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress. Its estimated cost had doubled to $13 billion from about $6.5 billion.
The cancellation came after the Pentagon had already spent more than $3 billion on the program. Even President Barack Obama singled out the former acquisition effort as "an example of the procurement process gone amok."
The GAO said the Navy, in its latest attempt, "had made progress toward establishing a sound business case that reflected a rational balance between requirements, cost and schedule."
Ten nations currently fly the dual-engine, medium-lift S-92 helicopter for their head of state missions, according to Sikorsky. The company since 2004 has delivered more than 200 of the aircraft, mostly to customers in the offshore oil and gas industry, and in civil search and rescue.
Sikorsky said it will deliver two prototypes in 2018 and four operational aircraft thereafter. The Navy is expected to place the first of three orders for the remaining 17 production models in 2019 and the company plans to finish delivering them by 2023.