New Marine One (Boeing 101) will be too late for Obama
Since President Dwight Eisenhower started using them in the mid-1950s, helicopters have become a routine part of presidential life and the sight of the large green-and-white craft lifting off from the South Lawn of the White House a regular occurrence. Piloted by Marines, the chopper bearing the president goes by the call sign Marine One.
The current fleet of helicopters dates back to the 1970s and 1980s. In 2002, the Navy proposed replacing them and, in 2005, after a heated bidding competition, it signed a contract with Lockheed Martin and AgustaWestland for 28 helicopters. Estimated cost: $6.1 billion.
Reportedly the government kept adding new security precautions to the design, such as missile-deflection devices, biological- and chemical-attack protections, electronics hardened against the electromagnetic pulse of a nuclear blast.
By 2008, the projected cost had become $11.2 billion, and, by 2009, a political issue. Barack Obama had only been in office a month when Sen. John McCain, his Republican opponent in the presidential campaign, ripped into him for the soaring costs that made each helicopter more expensive than Air Force One, the presidential jumbo jet. The next month, the government canceled the contract after $4 billion had been spent.
If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. The Navy is preparing another contract for a new Marine One. This time the original players are back for another try, but they’ve changed partners.
This week Boeing, the loser in 2005, announced that it will enter the bidding with AgustaWestland to build the Boeing 101, based on an existing AgustaWestland design. It will again be bidding against Lockheed Martin, except this time Lockheed is partnering with Sikorski, the maker of the current fleet of presidential helicopters, but the loser in the bidding to build their successors.
The winner is expected to be announced in 2012, after the presidential election. The cost for the new fleet is expected to be $6 billion to $10 billion. The new helicopters are to go into service sometime between 2017 and 2023. If it’s the latter date, it will have been only 21 years between the decision to replace Marine One and the time the White House actually got the new one.
By Dale McFeatters – Scripps Howard News Service
Dale McFeatters is an editorial writer of Scripps Howard News Service (www.scrippsnews.com).