AgustaWestland (AW) is still in the hunt for the U.S. VXX Presidential helicopter replacement program, commonly known as Marine One. “I can confirm we will be competing for the VXX program. We strongly believe the [AW-] 101 is the best helicopter to meet this requirement,” an AW spokesman told AIN. The chairman of AW’s parent company, Finmeccanica, suggested that AW was in talks with Boeing and L-3 to partner on the contract. AW has successfully teamed with Boeing on several past projects, including co-built AH-64 Apaches and tandem-rotor CH-47s for the British and Italian militaries, respectively. However, Boeing and Bell, currently partners on the V-22 tiltrotor, are expected to propose it as a likely Marine One solution. That could leave AW still seeking a new U.S. partner for the contract.
The use of the foreign-sourced AW-101 airframe for the original program (VH-71) was highly controversial and drew widespread political attack in the U.S. when it was announced in 2005. U.S.-based Sikorsky has provided presidential helicopters since 1957, but the current fleet of VH-3Ds and VH-60Ns is nearing three decades of service. The VH-71 was canceled last year after expenditure of more than $3.4 billion and the delivery of nine AW-101s, amidst criticisms from the Government Accountability Office and high-profile members of Congress that the program’s projected total costs, which had escalated past $13 billion or close to $400 million per unit, were out of control. AgustaWestland was paired with Lockheed Martin as the helicopter’s systems integrator for the VH-71. Any hope of resurrecting that partnership ended in April when Lockheed Martin said it would bid on the new replacement program with Sikorsky, offering that company’s H-92, the military variant of the twin-engine S-92A. However, starting the program over from scratch may not be financially or politically viable and Pentagon watchers expect the Navy to select a mixed fleet for the presidential mission.