- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 24, 2009

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama never had a helicopter, which he says might explain why he’s perfectly happy with the current White House fleet and doesn’t need a more costly one.

At the conclusion of a fiscal summit Monday, Obama faced questions from Republican and Democratic lawmakers, including his former presidential rival, Sen. John McCain.

McCain bemoaned cost overruns in military procurement. The new fleet of 28 Marine One helicopters being built by Lockheed Martin Corp. now over budget at $11.2 billion will cost more than Air Force One.

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Obama said the helicopter he has now seems adequate, adding that he never had a helicopter before and “maybe I’ve been deprived and I didn’t know it.” Obama said he has already talked to Defense Secretary Robert Gates about reviewing the program and its ballooning costs.

“It is an example of the procurement process gone amok, and we’re going to have to fix it,” Obama said.

The Navy which is in charge of overseeing the helicopter program reported to Congress in January that its price tag had nearly doubled. That notification triggered a formal process mandating the program be re-certified as a national security requirement by senior Pentagon leadership.

The Navy waited nearly a year before formally disclosing the information to lawmakers as it sought to find ways to keep the program within budget. Those efforts failed.

Gates already has warned of tough cuts in the upcoming fiscal 2010 budget as the Pentagon faces the pressure of paying for two wars during a recession.

Lockheed Martin spokesman Troy Scully said in a statement, “We are committed to the program’s success and are confident we can deliver the required number of helicopters compliant with the specifications that emerge from the ongoing review.”

A Navy spokesman could not be immediately reached for comment Monday evening.

The helicopter, which will be outfitted with communications equipment, anti-missile defenses and hardened hulls, is dubbed Marine One whenever the president is on board. The aircraft is expected to be similar to Air Force One, unlike the 30-year-old helicopters they would replace.

Shares of Bethesda, Md.-based Lockheed Martin fell $3.88, or 5 percent, to $73.87 Monday.

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