- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 8, 2009

An internal Navy document shows that new plans to replace the president’s fleet of helicopters will cost taxpayers more and take years longer to deliver than a recently scrapped contract, a New York Democrat said Wednesday.

Rep. Maurice D. Hinchey said the Pentagon’s plan to abandon aircraft built by Lockheed Martin Corp. and buy a new fleet with similar capabilities at a cost of up to $22 billion for delivery as late as 2024 is “beyond illogical.” He represents the district where the helicopters are made.

A Lockheed spokesman declined comment and directed questions to the Navy. A spokesman for the service did not return calls for comment.

In May, the military halted production of the helicopters at the Lockheed helicopter plant in Owego, N.Y. The company cut 600 jobs in July as a result of the Pentagon’s decision.

The government spent close to $3.2 billion on the project before Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates killed it for being behind schedule and over budget. Mr. Gates said the project, which had a $13 billion price tag, no longer met White House requirements.

Cost overruns and delays plagued Lockheed’s helicopter program due partly to aggressive plans by the Bush administration to incorporate anti-missile defenses, communications equipment, hardened hulls and other advanced capabilities on the aircraft in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

On Wednesday, the House and Senate Armed Services committees agreed to include $85 million requested by the Navy to cancel and restart the helicopter program as part of its $680.2 billion defense authorization bill.

Authorizers were expected to adhere to the president’s budget request, but the funding issue likely will boil over next week when House and Senate lawmakers meet to resolve differences over their respective defense spending bills.

On Tuesday, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved $636 billion to fund military operations for fiscal 2010, which started Oct. 1. However, lawmakers did not include funding to continue building the first batch of helicopters. Nine presidential helicopters out of a planned fleet of 28 have been delivered to the Navy.

Mr. Hinchey, a member of the House Appropriations subcommittee on defense, has been working with its chairman, Rep. John Murtha, Pennsylvania Democrat, to salvage the existing program.

Mr. Hinchey is expected to urge Senate leaders next week to include the $485 million in House funding for the Lockheed helicopters in the final version of the defense bill before it goes to President Obama.

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