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Navy kicks off $943 million presidential helicopter buy

Carolyn Kaster/AP

The Navy kicked off the procurement process for a new fleet of presidential helicopters expected to cost $943 million, following termination in May 2009 of a previous project with Lockheed Martin Corp., after costs spiraled to an estimated $13 billion from $6.5 billion for 28 aircraft. President Obama described the program as “the procurement process gone amok.”

The new helicopters will provide the president with systems that enable “strategic communications superiority,” the Navy said.

By the time the Defense Department canceled the Lockheed Martin VH-71 project to develop a new helicopter for the nation’s commander in chief, the Government Accountability Office reported in March 2011 that development costs to adapt an Augusta Westland helicopter for presidential use totaled $3 billion.

The Naval Air Systems Command, in a draft request for proposals posted to the Federal Business Opportunities website, said it wants to hold development on the new VXX helicopter to “an absolute minimum . . . and focus the program effort on integration of mature subsystems on a mature platform.”

NAVAIR said bidders “will be highly encouraged to propose an existing, in-production helicopter platform from which the VXX will be derived.” Service officials said minor changes to the platform to accommodate integration of subsystems are inevitable, but they “highly discouraged” changes to major components such as drive trains, rotors, engines and basic structure.

The VXX will replace Sikorsky VH3-D and VH60-N helicopters, which went into service in 1978 and 1989 respectively.

The draft RFP calls for development and delivery of 23 production helicopters with the first slated for service on 2020. In an attachment to the draft RFP, officials said they are looking at a total flyaway cost for the VXX and support equipment of $41 million per aircraft, or $943 million for 23 helicopters. 

NAVAIR said it plans to assemble an executive communications suite using existing off-the-shelf components for the VXX Mission Communications System, which will incorporate existing state-of-the-art analog radio terminals and encryption equipment and expand that capability by providing a digital, Internet protocol-based network architecture that uses currently available hardware.

The draft RFP specifically requires that the VXX should be equipped with a Wideband Line of Sight System for communications. This February, the NAVAIR Special Requirements Communications Division put out a request to industry for such a system capable of transmitting data at a rate of 5 megabits per second from a helicopter operating at an altitude of 1,200 feet with a range of 1 mile.

NAVAIR said it plans to hold an unclassified pre-solicitation conference for interested VXX bidders at its Patuxent River, Md., headquarters the week of Dec. 10.

The original story and headline misstated the contract's value. The new fleet is expected to cost $943 million, not $9.4 billion. The story has been corrected.   

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