Limited funding for the Lockheed Martin/AgustaWestland VH-71 presidential helicopter, which is based on the triple-engine AgustaWestland AW101, made it into the final FY2010 U.S. defense appropriations bill, reviving the model’s chances of one day flying U.S. presidents. At direction of Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, the Pentagon had terminated the program on May 15 last year. Since then, however, proponents of the program lobbied to have funds to continue the VH-71 program included in the defense appropriations bill. President Obama signed the bill into law on December 19.
Last year, the President had said he would consider vetoing the defense appropriations bill if it contained funding to continue the VH-71, which had been plagued by delays and cost overruns ($3.3 billion spent to date). The final version of the bill includes $130 million in funding for the program, “of which $100 million is for technology capture to recoup investments in research and development for the VH-71,” according to the House Committee on Appropriations. The other $30 million is earmarked for initial studies by the U.S. Navy on requirements for the next “Marine One,” designated the VHXX. Since this “technology capture” does not necessarily mean the VH-71 per se will continue and because there is so much else in the bill of critical importance to the country, observers had speculated that the President would sign it.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Navy is re-evaluating the requirements for a presidential helicopter. Ashton Carter, undersecretary of defense for acquisitions, has stated publicly that he hopes to start another presidential helicopter program by this spring, based on “a reasonable set of requirements and a new acquisition strategy.”