The U.S. Navy is trying once more to replace the U.S. Presidential helicopter fleet. On May 3, the Navy issued a Request for Proposal (RFP) for industry to respond in 90 days with their submissions for an aircraft to replace the current 11 VH-3D (a version of Sikorsky’s Sea King) and eight VH-60N ‘White Hawk’ helicopters (modified Sikorsky UH-60As).
The acquisition will be for a fixed-price incentive engineering and manufacturing development contract (EMD) with production expected to begin by mid-2014 for a total of 21 aircraft. Initially six test aircraft would be delivered, four of which would enter service. According to the RFP, a further 17 helicopters would be produced to the following schedule: four in low-rate initial production (LRIP) 1; five in LRIP 2; and the final eight in full-rate production.
Capt. Dean Peters, program manager, said that he expected “a full and open competition to select a prime contractor that can best integrate mature subsystems into an air vehicle currently in production for an affordable solution that meets mission requirements.”
The Presidential helicopter squadron, HMX-1 (Marine One) is manned by U.S. Marine crewmen but the competition is managed by the Navy’s NAVAIR (Naval Air Systems Command).
Both types of current service helicopters are now well past their lifecycle limits, with the VH-3Ds being introduced in the mid-1970s and the VH-60Ns in the 80s. The previous attempt to replace the presidential helicopter fleet came to an abrupt end in April 2009.
The Lockheed Martin/AgustaWestland VH-71 Kestrel (a version of the AW101 Merlin) had been selected in favor of Sikorsky’s H-92 Super Hawk in January 2005. However, by 2008 the expected cost of the replacement aircraft (28) had risen from just over $6 billion to around $11.2 billion (around $400 million per helicopter, roughly four times currently predicted for the Joint Strike Fighter), with the eventual figure predicted to be in excess of $13 billion.
In 2009, the newly sworn-in President Obama, under immediate pressure to cut budgets, instructed then-Defence Secretary Robert Gates to look closely at the whole presidential helicopter project, which resulted in the program being halted after nine aircraft had been produced.
Related: VIP/Head of State News