New Air Force One & Marine One

DOD has begun planning for two major programs to replace Air Force One and the Marine Corps’ fleet of presidential helicopters, and they’ll remain separate efforts run by the Departments of the Air Force and the Navy respectively, Morning D has confirmed. One initial wire report about this effort seemed to indicate a joint office would run both programs, but that’s not so, said DOD spokeswoman Cheryl Irwin.

UnderSecDef for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics Frank Kendall approved “early acquisition planning” on Friday for the “Presidential Aircraft Replacement” program and the VXX presidential helicopter replacement program. The mention of VXX may send shudders down the spines of some people around the defense game — the first attempt at buying a new presidential helo did not go well — but the Marines’ fleet of VH-3 Sea Kings isn’t getting any younger.

Per Irwin, the Air Force is going to do “market analysis, acquisition planning and requirements trade studies” for an Air Force One replacement. It could release an RFP on the new presidential airplane in fiscal 2015, against the goal of awarding a development contract in fiscal 16. DOD could release an RFP for a new presidential helicopter sooner: In fiscal 2013, against the goal of awarding a development contract in 2014. Pentagon officials want to get this ball rolling now so they’ll have aircraft to replace the current ones sometime in the next decade, as today’s reach the end of their service lives.

The aircraft popularly known as Air Force One and Marine One are packed with special electronics, communications gear, countermeasures and other equipment — you may recall the escape pod that President Harrison Ford considered using in the documentary “Air Force One.” Buying high-tech, custom aircraft in low quantities is not cheap, and this was one problem that doomed the first attempt at replacing the presidential helicopter fleet.

That program became “a poster child for requirements creep,” in the words of then-Secretary Gates, who terminated it in 2009 with the blessing of the White House. No matter when these begin to materialize, the politics could be tricky: No president, especially one in Austerity America, wants to be seen spending billions of dollars on his or her own new airplanes and helicopters, but today’s Air Force and Marine aircraft will inevitably wear out at some point.


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