Sikorsky signs US$1.24b contract for new US presidential helicopters
Sikorsky has won an initial US$1.24 billion contract to develop and build six new US presidential helicopters, the first step towards a fleet of 23 new aircraft by 2023, the Pentagon said.
The award caps years of efforts by the US Navy to replace the fleet of ageing Marine One helicopters, some of which have ferried the president and other top officials since 1974.
Sikorsky, a unit of United Technologies, has built all presidential helicopters since 1957, when Dwight Eisenhower became the first US president to regularly use helicopters.
Former defence secretary Robert Gates cancelled an earlier programme managed by Lockheed Martin in 2009 after the cost more than doubled to around US$13 billion, prompting US President Barack Obama to describe it "an example of the procurement process gone amok".
The total value of the new programme is expected to be US$3 billion, said Marty Hauser, director of government communications for United Technologies.
Lockheed will be the key subcontractor to Sikorsky on the new programme, which is based on the Sikorsky S-92 helicopter that is already used by 10 nations for their head-of-state missions.
"For 57 years, our company has been trusted with the critical responsibility of building and supporting a safe and reliable helicopter fleet for the president of the United States," Sikorsky president Mick Maurer said.
"We stand ready to deliver the next Marine One, the world's most advanced executive transport helicopter."
Efforts to buy a new presidential helicopter began shortly after the September 11, 2001, hijacking attacks, which revealed the outdated nature of communications systems on the existing fleet.
"I'm glad to see this is finally over," said Mark Rosenker, a retired Air Force general who headed the White House Military Office at the time and initiated the drive to buy new aircraft.
"These aircraft are maintained extremely well, but they need to brought into the 21st century."
Sikorsky was the sole bidder for the project.
Captain Dean Peters, who heads the programme for the US Navy, said the goal was to integrate mature equipment into an existing, in-production aircraft to minimise development and testing costs.
He said Sikorsky would build six test aircraft, of which four would later be used for operations. The contract will have options for 17 additional operational aircraft, the navy said.