What Should We Do With the Nine Marine One Replacement Choppers?

When the original presidential helicopter program was cancelled a couple  of years ago due to a ballooning costs, the program left nine completed and nearly completed Lockheed Martin-Augusta Westland-built VH-71 presidential choppers-in-waiting sitting in a government hangar.

Well, after spending billions to develop the birds, doesn’t it make sense to do something with them? Now, sister site DoDBuzz is reporting that an unnamed agency may just put the choppers to use:

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.

Seriously, do something with these birds. Use them as the new VXX, give them to the CIA, FBI, NSA, SOCOM or whoever. Just don’t let them rot and don’t sell them to Canada for pennies on the dollar (I’ve heard rumors this was going to happen).

What do you DT readers think we should do with them?


  • FormerDirtDart

    I would not be surprised if they ended up over at DHS/FEMA to support the “Continuity of Operations” and “Mobile Emergency Response Support” missions.

    Also, weren’t the only aircraft produced from Increment I, thus lacking a lot of the high-speed “executive protection plus” systems?

    Aside from all that, it would probably still be a good idea to use the 6-9 VH-71s to replace the 11 VH-3s, and expand & modernize the VH-60 fleet.

  • brian

    Sell’em on the open market and see what we get for them so we can get an idea of how much the government overpays for this stuff. Seriously 3.2 billion for just 9 Helos? I would be shocked if these Helos got just 1 billion back.

    I think the president should just stay in the White House and let people come to him.

  • DJ Elliott

    My bet is OSC-I or State for Iraq support.

  • Ebbe

    I believe that works out to about $355 million each, and they’re not even completed. If they completed the entire program of 28, each would cost $460 million. To put that in perspective, the double decker A-380 only costs $380 million. How the f do they get a helicopter to cost close to half a billion!

    • brian

      Ohh thats easy, by spending other people’s money, then you don’t have to care.

    • blight

      You’re comparing R&D costs for a EMP-proof, specialized helicopter that is designed to shoehorn as a mobile command center (at least until POTUS gets to a better facility) in the event of nuclear war, against the flyaway cost of the biggest civilian jet ever built using R&D facilities shared across Europe and built by transporting entire segments of jet between countries.

      If you throw R&D costs + flyaway and R&D costs + flyaway for each program things may look different. If you use retail price on the A380, it’s higher than the flyaway cost as it incorporates some of the R&D cost with the expectation that eventually the cost will be amortized. With military programs where the first buy is pretty set in stone and unlikely to change, the buyer gets socked with the R&D cost all at once per airframe.

      • Ebbe

        Stil, over $400 million? Even the F-35 only costs $150 mill each - including R&D.

      • DualityOfMan

        R&D costs are definitely pushed into the price of the A380.

  • Ebbe

    The AW101 normally costs less than $25 million.

  • blight

    If the government could standardize on a “mobile command center” helicopter it would reduce a great deal of redundancy. It might increase buy size and hopefully lead to reliability/cost reductions.

  • jamesb101

    the question remains..what do you do with them?
    I like the add them to the fleet and retire the oldest birds….

    that’s a win/win…
    instead of waiting for another 10 years for a new set…

  • http://twitter.com/Brianckramer @Brianckramer

    I said this in the last thread, but they would be ideal for CSAR situations where you may be shot at, but cannot or should not fire back (Think pilot extraction from an unfriendly country, where shooting back may cause an all-out war). These helos, if finished, would have excellent range, active countermeasures, modern avionics, 3-engine reliability, and enough space for about 20 troops. So, SF or CIA covert ops would be perfect. might as well use them for something.

    • blight

      A newish European helicopter only found in the hands of VIPs or nation-states is not what you want to use for covert ops.

      A modified Hip, a Bell or MD-500…

    • Guest

      The 9 helos in question are not set up for that type of operation and would need heavy modification to make it so.

  • blight

    For the immediate transport need, Agusta makes the AW101 VIP. Maybe we should’ve bought one of those, and then modified them aftermarket; instead of trying to make something whizbang out of the factory? 400M up front cost is sad…

    • blight

      Though now that I think about it, possible contenders for presidential helicopter could include:

      CH-47, V-22, CH-53. The UH-60 is already in use, and Superhawk is back for round two.

      • jamesb101

        No V-22….

        • STemplar

          The helos are expected to do a lot. Carry 14 people. Have a ton of secure comm gear. Anti missile systems. They’re armored. Hardened against EMP, That pretty much means you don’t buy something OTS and modify it, you have to build it from the ground up to accommodate those reqs.

          That’s not to say this still wasn’t a botched development process because it certainly was, but regardless these were going to be expensive choppers period. Like saying a Bugatti and a Nissan are both cars, slight difference in the price tag.

          The number to be bought probably has to do with a very robust maintenance rotation and regimen, and the fact that it’s usually 3 or more choppers that ferry the POTUS and staff at any given time. Plus they probably forward stage some around the country/world as well.

      • Guest

        47’s are too big, V-22 rotorwash will blow the south lawn to the Washington Monumet, 53’s killed the rose garden already and 60’s cabin is too small for all the new crypto gear and C/M equipment they want to implement. Got any other suggestions?

  • STemplar

    Good for disaster relief, another 9-11 scenario, etc. VTOL mobile command center.

  • mat

    9 completed seems more than enough for an airforce one role,so use them for what they were built.
    Now this some one is going to use them seems quite a funny ,is sort of like building 9 presidential limos and then hand them over to local SWAT ”they are armored right you can use that sort of thing ” that is a joke

    • jamesb101

      amen mat!

  • bkny22

    I dont know much about all the bells and whistles,but if they were made for the POTUS would’nt it not be wise to let others near the equiment

    • Guest

      There is zero secret gear in the planes.

  • roland

    Since we have this. Cancel the Chinese and French helo orders. We only need 1 to 2 Helo for the POTUS . Cancel or recycle the rest. Or use the remaining 7 for combat command post. Probably the congress or our world embasadors needs it too when travelling abroad.

  • Oblat

    The copters have served their purpose to make the contractors rich. Doesn’t really matter what happens to them now.

  • Dave

    Sell them to Canada for pennies on the dollar.

  • seeker6079

    I agree with Dave (but then again, I’m a Canadian). But you American readers need not worry. If the American government offered all the choppers to Canada for $1 each our Defence procurocrats would still find a way to pay America $1b each, and then another $1bil each for botched downgrades of their equipment.

    • Guest

      You guys already fly this type/model so it wouldn’t be a stretch maintenance and logistics wise to operate them. I’m sure you’d put them to better use also.

  • Dfens

    What difference does it make what we do with them? The important thing is that Lockheed made their 10% profit off the $3.2 billion we flushed down that rat hole and the idiot US taxpayer doesn’t even realize that they’ve been taken once more. Stupid people should be separated from their money. They don’t deserve to have it.

    Let’s not change a thing, though. Let’s continue to pay contractors profit on development because it is working out so damn well for them. The defense contractors are all making record profits. Their CEO’s are siphon $30 to $40 million a year out of our tax coffers, and we get nothing. A system as brilliant as that has to make every one of us proud to be an American.

    • blight

      Madoff would approve. Make jillions and don’t have to go to jail for it.

      • Dfens

        There’s no reason to go to jail when you can run a scam like this and still show your face in church every Sunday. It’s free money and it’s there for the taking. All the taxpayer is going to do is look at the situation and wring their hands because they can’t figure out what to do. After all, the defense contractors told them that if they didn’t go along, the contractors wouldn’t bid on any more contracts. They’d never lie. The generals are just as happy to go along, because watching a contractor screw the country they are supposed to be defending means their sorry ass is safe in a cushy chair and not in Iraq or Afghanistan.

  • dauntlessCelt

    I voted for other - give them to me.

    Or we could rig them and give them to China to start paying off our debt to them.

  • Stormcharger

    Maybe it’ll encourage other nations to buy the F35 if we give a free VH71 with each purchase. Since neither is compleated, there’s plenty of time to make it a package deal.

  • sierra2kilo

    Air America Redux!