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Saturday, August 11, 2012 - Page updated at 06:30 p.m.

Pentagon envisions new Air Force One jet, good news for Boeing

By Tony Capaccio

The Pentagon started a program today to develop and buy replacement Air Force One aircraft for presidential use after 2022, according to an official and a summary of the authorization memo.

Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition Frank Kendall has signed an "acquisition decision" memo that authorizes the Air Force to set up an office for the replacement program, which includes new Marine One helicopters available for use no earlier than 2020.

The first phase of the program will focus on completing a market analysis and assessment of performance requirements for the presidential transports, according to a defense official who spoke on the condition he not be identified since the decision memo hasn't been released. These will be reviewed by the Joint Chiefs of Staff formal requirements board.

The plan is good news for aircraft and engine makers such as Bethesda, Md.-based Lockheed Martin Corp., Chicago-based Boeing Co., and engine makers Fairfield, Conn.-based General Electric Co. and Hartford, Conn.-based United Technologies Corp.

The Pentagon has budgeted $757 million through 2017 for the first phase of the Air Force One replacement and $1.84 billion for the helicopter replacement through 2017 and most of the money would be spent after fiscal 2015, the official said.

The initial new Air Force One wouldn't be delivered for modification with specialized technology until 2019, according to the Pentagon's latest 30-year aviation plan.

A new presidential helicopter to replace the 35-year-old ones now in service wouldn't be declared operational until 2020, followed by the new Air Force One aircraft in 2023, the official said, citing a formal schedule.

Kendall directed the Air Force create a plan that anticipates releasing a request for proposals for the airplane to industry in 2015 with the potential for a development contract award in 2016, according to a summary of his memo.

The Air Force analysis will form the basis for the acquisition strategy, which includes whether to buy sole-source from Boeing, maker of the current two aircraft that comprise the presidential fleet, or open the contest to competition, said the official. The planning memo didn't specify the number of aircraft that may be purchased.

The aircraft are expected to have 30-year service lives, the Air Force said.

The helicopter plan is the latest attempt to replace the existing aircraft since Gates terminated the then-VH-71 program in 2009 because of cost growth and schedule delays after Lockheed Martin won the program.

The VH-71 helicopter program when canceled was projected to cost $13 billion, more than twice the original estimate of $6.1 billion. The most capable version of the aircraft to be operational by December 2017 was running at least 24 months late when terminated.

Kendall in his memo directed the Air Force begin detailed planning for an acquisition strategy. The goal is potentially releasing a request for proposals for the helicopter to industry in fiscal 2013 and possible development contract in 2014.

The exact number of helicopters to be purchased hasn't yet been decided, the official said.

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