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President Obama's New Marine One Helicopter

President Obama is scheduled to receive a new Marine One helicopter sometime in late 2009. Now seven years into development, the Lockheed Martin VH-71 is outfitted with state-of-the-art defensive measures, secure communications, and crash survivability fuselage design. On-board encrypted videoconferencing capabilities will now allow the President to hold virtual meetings with military advisors, senior politicians, and other world leaders.

Though the full-spectrum of security features is not being publicly disseminated, a general overview of some key features has been released. The new Marine One helicopter will feature the latest in radar warning receivers, incoming laser detection, and counter-measures to help evade a surface-to-air or air-to-air missile attack.

The new VH-71 Marine One helicopter is 64 feet long. It is outfitted to carry 14 passengers and has a galley kitchen and a lavatory. The new helicopter has a range of 350 miles. By contrast, the old Sikorsky Sea Kings can only transport 10 passengers over a range of just 100 miles.

A total of 28 of the Lockheed VH-71 helicopters will be phased in over a 10 year period to replace the President’s current 19 helicopter fleet that is comprised of Sikorsky VH-3D Sea Kings and VH-60N Black Hawks. The Sea King is the helicopter model the President has most often been transported in for the last 5 decades. In fact, some of the individual aircraft in the current fleet are over 30 years old.

The new Marine One helicopter project, being overseen by the U.S. Navy Air Systems Command, has been controversial for a couple of reasons. First of all, each of the helicopters will cost an estimated $400 million dollars, and 28 of them are being built. Secondly, though the helicopters are being manufactured by U.S.-based Lockheed Martin, the aircraft is actually a design sourced from Augusta Westland of the UK.

The size of the new Marine One project budget is pretty amazing when one puts it into perspective... At $400 million dollars apiece, each helicopter costs more than the President’s Air Force One Boeing 747. The development contract has ballooned from an original cost of $6.2 billion to more than $11 billion. This has happened in spite of the fact that the new Marine One is based upon an existing Augusta Westland EH101 helicopter design that has been in service for several years. Regular EH101 helicopters cost around $60 million dollars each, a mere fraction of the new Presidential helicopter’s price tag.

Connecticut-based Sikorsky Aircraft has provided helicopters to American Presidents since 1961. So, it was quite a blow to Sikorsky when they were beaten by the Lockheed Martin/Augusta Westland team and saw their high-profile relationship with the Whitehouse slip away. But simply, the superior capabilities of the Lockheed/Augusta helicopter was the better match for the unique needs of the current President of the United States.

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