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Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Rotorcraft Report: VH-71 Substitutes Disparaged

MILITARY | VIP

In the wake of the VH-71 presidential helicopter cancellation, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has been floating ideas for a cost-saving substitute. One idea that Gates raised with the House Appropriations Defense subcommittee on May 19 was what could be called the "two helicopter solution."

"One of the things we’re thinking about is that, in fact, all of the requirements that are being placed on this helicopter may not be feasible in a single helicopter," Gates said. Under the two-helicopter model, the president would use one lesser-equipped helicopter for routine trips, and a more capable helicopter for emergencies. In doing so, costs would be reduced, because an entire fleet of top-quality helicopters would not be required.

Is the two-helicopter solution really a cost-effective alternative to the over-budget VH-71? No, said Loren B. Thompson, COO of the Lexington Institute think tank. "While use of two different helicopters for executive transportation is not a new idea, it clearly raises doubts about whether a less costly alternative to the US101 rotorcraft [the basis of the VH-71] is feasible," Thompson said. "Development, testing and production of two types would be intrinsically more expensive than purchasing a single type, and the higher costs would persist into service-life support due to divergent maintenance procedures and spare parts requirements. When you layer these new costs onto the already sunk costs of VH-71 and the termination fees incurred by the Gates proposal, it is clear that the decision to cancel the current program made no budgetary sense," he continued. "And when the additional time required by the new plan to provide the president with modern transportation is factored in, it becomes apparent that Secretary Gates has impaired national security for no good reason."

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