By Roxana Tiron - 10/15/09 04:52 PM EDT
Defense Secretary Robert Gates said he’ll recommend that President Barack Obama veto the 2010 defense spending bill if it includes funding for a new presidential helicopter.
said he’ll also recommend that Obama veto the bill if appropriators
include money for a second engine for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, if
those funds end up “seriously” disrupting the entire fighter jet
“The conference bill should not
provide funding for weapons that are not working or are no longer
needed,” Gates told the lawmakers.
The House included $485
million for the VH-71 presidential helicopter and $560 million for the
Joint Strike Fighter alternate engine, which is built by General
Electric and Rolls-Royce. That engine is in direct competition with the
primary engine built by Pratt & Whitney.
& Whitney and the GE-Rolls-Royce team have battled over the funding
in a high-profile public-relations and lobbying campaign.
appropriators also slashed $532 million from the Joint Strike Fighter
procurement accounts (which funds 28 airplanes), but boosted
development money by $430 million.
Senate appropriators did
not include funds for the two projects, but Sen. Daniel Inouye
(D-Hawaii), the Senate Appropriations Committee chairman, signaled
funding for the second engine could be added in conference
negotiations. Inouye supported funding for the second engine in the
On the presidential helicopter program, however, Inouye
said that if the president does not want it, he did not want to “force
it down his throat.”
Lockheed Martin and the Italian-British
venture Agusta-Westland built the new presidential helicopter, the
VH-71. The program is technically defunct and was canceled with much
fanfare by the White House and Gates as a symbol of the
administration’s responsible defense spending.
program suffered from delays and ballooning costs; its price tag rose
from an estimated $6.5 billion to $13 billion, in part because of
growing technological requirements from the Marine One Squadron, which
flies the presidential helicopters.
appropriators are looking for a way to tap into the $3.2 billion
already spent on the program. For 2010 they allocated $485 million to
make operational five VH-71 helicopters that have already been
delivered. Lockheed Martin announced it would lay off 600 employees as
a result of the cancellation of the helicopter program.
his letter to Murtha and Young, Gates argued that the five helicopters
have no mission equipment and it would take “in excess of $2 billion to
complete and operate” as a presidential helicopter.
Department and the White House are conducting a requirements analysis,
and the outcome of this effort should not be pre-empted,” Gates wrote.
Murtha indicated on Thursday that he believed any new helicopter
project would end up costing even more than the former VH-71 project.
is going to cost more to start a new helicopter now,” Murtha told The
Hill. “We are still in negotiations [on the bill]; we are not there
Congressional Research Service earlier this year quoted internal Navy
documents that estimated the new helicopter program would cost $15
billion to $22 billion when factoring in $4 billion already spent on
the canceled program and $1.2 billion to extend the service life of the
According to statements made by
Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell, the new presidential helicopter would
not cost more than the canceled VH-71 and none of the options the
Pentagon is looking into come close to the costs of the canceled