Presidential helicopter program begins anew

 - February 20, 2010, 9:12 AM

The U.S. Navy last week issued a comprehensive 27-page request for information (RFI) for the next VXX helicopter that will possibly begin to replace the
current fleet of “Marine One” Sikorsky VH-3D and VH-60N helicopters in the 2017-2023 time frame. Responding parties have until March 3 to submit a letter of interest and April 19 to submit their final responses to the Naval Air Systems Command.

The RFI follows the termination of the VH-71 presidential helicopter program by the Pentagon last year and the subsequent approval of limited funds ($130 million) for VXX development and “technology capture” of some of the $3.3 billion spent on that program. In 2005, the Navy had awarded the original VXX contract to provide a fleet of 23 presidential helicopters (later dubbed the VH-71) to Lockheed Martin System Integration (prime contractor and systems integration), AgustaWestland (providing the basic three-engine AW101, formerly the EH101 helicopter) and Bell Helicopter (flight-test engineers and maintenance support and eventual final assembly of the aircraft), following a competition with a Sikorsky Aircraft team, which offered its twin-engine S-92.

According to an official statement provided to AIN last week, “The Navy is still assessing the best way to capture technology obtained from the [VH-71] presidential helicopters development programs as provided for by the FY2010 Defense Authorization and Appropriations Acts.”

Meanwhile, the Navy, the White House Military Office and the Office of the Secretary of Defense are working to develop options for a revised replacement helicopter program. “The new VXX program is being structured from its inception to cost less than the VH-71 program, with affordability as a top priority,” the statement continues. “The Navy is moving toward an Analysis of Alternatives that will address all feasible material and non-material options with a holistic assessment of requirements, capabilities, cost drivers, schedule implications and risks. We are confident this approach will result in a program that will benefit from lessons learned and leverage prior work where it is appropriate as we move to a more affordable program to meet this critical mission.”

According to a spokesman for AgustaWestland, “We are looking at the RFI and are confident that the AW101 is the right helicopter for the mission.” Lockheed Martin stated: “We are reviewing the RFI to determine how we best can apply our capabilities to meet the government’s requirements.” Sikorsky did not immediately provide comment to AIN.