WASHINGTON, May 7 (Reuters) - Sikorsky Aircraft, a unit of United Technologies Corp, won an initial US$1.24 billion (S$1.55 billion) contract to develop and build six new US presidential helicopters, the first step toward a fleet of 21 new aircraft by 2023, the Pentagon announced on Wednesday.
The award capped years of efforts by the US Navy to replace the current fleet of aging Marine One helicopters, also built by Sikorsky, some of which have ferried the president and other top officials since 1974.
Sikorsky 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 Corp in 2009 after the cost more than doubled to around $13 billion, prompting 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 about $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 in a statement. "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to buy a new presidential helicopter began shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, hijacking attacks, which revealed the outdated nature of communications systems on the existing fleet.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," Rosenker said. He said the previous acquisition got out of hand because of never-ending requirements, but Navy and White House officials now realised"they don't have to have every bell and whistle." Since 2004, Sikorsky has delivered more than 200 S-92 helicopters, mainly to companies in the oil and gas industry, and for use by civilian agencies for search and rescue.
Sikorsky was the sole bidder for the helicopter after other companies decided not to compete. The contract is on fixed-price terms, with an incentive fee based on the company's performance.
Connecticut lawmakers Representatives Rosa DeLauro and John Larsen said the news would benefit Connecticut workers. "Sikorsky has long been synonymous with Marine One, the presidential helicopter," DeLauro said. "Every president since Eisenhower has flown in a Sikorsky, made right in Connecticut."