The US Navy released a request for information (RFI) for the procurement of a new fleet of presidential helicopters on February 16, nine months after it terminated the US$3.2bn (A$3.5bn) Lockheed Martin/AgustaWestland VH-71 program due to cost overruns and schedule delays.
Known as the VXX Presidential Vertical Lift Platform, the 27 page RFI lays out the Navy’s updated acquisition strategy to procure between 23 and 28 helicopters to replace 11 of its 40-year-old Sikorsky VH-3Ds and eight Sikorsky VH-60s, which became operational in the late 1980s.
The RFI discusses options for procuring a mixed fleet to fulfil the VXX requirements with either two variants of the same type or with two different aircraft. One aircraft will have a fully appointed executive suite including galley and lavatory, while a different helicopter will carry a full load of command, control and communications equipment.
Specifically, the new helicopters will have the ability to carry 10-14 passengers 150nm to 275nm, be transportable on C-17 and C-5 aircraft, have a speed of 140kt while carrying mission fuel, payload, and advanced communications and defensive aids systems.
Likely VXX program contenders include the original opponents, Sikorsky, offering its VH-92, and Lockheed Martin/AgustaWesland, with the VH-71. New contenders may include Boeing, with its CH-47 Chinook, and Bell-Boeing, offering the V-22 Osprey. From across the Atlantic Eurocopter could offer either its NH90 or EC225 products.
While the new helicopters won’t achieve IOC until between 2017-2023, Navy plans to invest US$500m (A$556m) to keep the current presidential helicopter fleet serviceable until the long-awaited replacements arrive.