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Presidential helicopter costs soar

Development costs for the new US presidential helicopter, the VH-71A, have risen by more than 40% to $2.4 billion due to modifications and additional testing not anticipated by prime contractor Lockheed when it won the VXX competition in January 2005 with a version of the AgustaWestland EH101.

"Immediately following contract award, Lockheed Martin and Navair [US Naval Air Systems Command] realised there was a difference in understanding about operational and technical requirements and how to develop and test the subsystems and the aircraft," says the company in a statement.

Lockheed says it expected to develop an Increment 1 helicopter "with minimal modification" to meet an accelerated schedule calling for initial operational capability in October 2009. But "additional required aircraft modifications, enhanced safety, additional testing and enhanced supportability" increased the cost, it says.

The $1.7 billion system development and demonstration contract awarded in 2005 calls for delivery of three US Navy-owned Increment 1 test aircraft, one company-owned test aircraft and five pilot production aircraft to achieve IOC in 2009. The contract also covers development of the Increment 2 aircraft with increased capability.

Sources suggest the misunderstanding occurred because the US Navy source-selection team was kept separate from the rest of Navair during the VXX competition. While the plan was to buy an off-the-shelf helicopter for Increment 1, then upgrade it for Increment 2, Navair subsequently required additional modifications and testing.

Lockheed says the decision to upgrade the Increment 2 helicopter with an improved drive train and 0.9m (3ft) longer rotor blades necessitates structural changes including a longer tail boom. As a result, instead of retrofitting the Increment 1 aircraft, the VH-71 team has recommended an additional five Increment 2 helicopters be built, taking the total to 23 and pushing the production cost beyond the $4.2 billion expected for the original 18. Lockheed does not yet have a contract for Increment 2 production.




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