The U.S. president got a new “Marine One” helicopter to fly around in, in 1961. This was a customized version of the Sikorsky SH-3 Sea King called the VH-3A. The Marine One got an upgrade to the VH-3D in 1976, after which no major upgrades took place. After September 11, the Department of Defense decided that a whole new Marine One for the president would be a good idea.
$5.4 billion were spent by the DoD, in 2009 for nine new helicopters from Lockheed Martin that were never used and which later got sold to Canada for spare parts for $164 million. That means each helicopter cost $600 million; $200 million more expensive than the President’s Air Force One.
There were many requirements that the new Marine One would have to meet. First, it must be small enough to land on the South Lawn, which is the President’s official helipad. But the helicopter must be large enough to lift 14 people and several thousand pounds of equipment a distance of 300 miles. The helicopters must be armored, with a bullet-resistant fuselage and glass. The helicopters must have a full suite of defensive countermeasures to throw off the targeting and guidance systems of missiles. They must be “hardened” against the electromagnetic pulse of a nuclear blast that could fry electronics and knock out everything from smartphones to helicopters. Secure communications are a must. Marine One must be able to send and receive encrypted communications and hold secure video conferences with U.S. military and government leaders worldwide, including those in charge of U.S. nuclear forces. Finally, the president’s helicopter must include a toilet.
The Pentagon has awarded the contract to the American defense contractor Sikorsky, to build at least 23 helicopters costing $400 million each making the project worth almost $20 billion. According to the contract, the U.S. military will take delivery of two prototype helicopters—based on the Sikorsky S-92 medium helicopter-in 2016, followed by another 21 units. The new unit will be called the VH-92.
People might wonder why one person would need 23 helicopters? This can be explained by the minimum of two decoys – and as many as five – that fly to Andrews Air Force Base whenever he hops from the White House to a waiting Air Force One. And whenever Obama travels, duplicate helicopters are flown on cargo planes in advance, so one can be fuelled and waiting when the plane lands.
Lets see how it turns out once it is brought into service in 2016.