Pentagon eyes two presidential helicopter models

WASHINGTON Wed May 20, 2009 2:02pm EDT

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Lockheed Martin Corp's VH-71 presidential helicopter program was a "poster child for an acquisition process gone seriously wrong," Defense Secretary Robert Gates told U.S. lawmakers on Wednesday.

He said the first batch of helicopters built under the program would have cost about $1 billion each, and carrying 10 passengers, would have had less range than the current helicopters.

Gates, who announced plans to cancel the program in April, told the defense subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee it would cost about $1.2 billion in termination fees to end the existing Lockheed program, and to extend the life of the current fleet of presidential helicopters.

That is far less than the Navy's estimate of the combined cost of over $5 billion which was cited in a congressional memo made public on Tuesday.

Gates said the Pentagon planned to meet immediately with White House officials to review the requirements for the helicopter. As originally conceived, the program may have tried to put too many requirements on one single aircraft.

One promising alternative might be to buy two different helicopter models, he said, one for the President to use locally and on travel in the United States, and a second bigger, better protected one to be used as an "escape" helicopter in the event of an attack.

(Reporting by Andrea Shalal-Esa; editing by Gunna Dickson)

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