Readers of my "Weekend Wings" series will have noted my description of the new Presidential helicopter program some weeks ago. Briefly, the VH-71 Kestrel is being developed from the AgustaWestland EH-101 platform to provide VIP transport to the President of the United States.
The initial cost estimates were bad enough - 6.8 billion dollars for 23 aircraft, or a cost of almost $296 million per helicopter. However, those initial estimates are long out of date. The latest estimates have just been announced, confirming earlier suspicions.
John Young, undersecretary for acquisition, said the cost estimate to develop the most advanced version of the chopper had grown to $7.5 billion from $4.5 billion.
Costs for the first phase of an interim model scheduled to be fielded by 2010 have grown to $3.7 billion from $2.3 billion, or 61 percent, he said.
For the arithmetically challenged, that brings the total program cost to $11.2 billion. Averaging this across the 23 aircraft to be purchased, the cost of each is now a staggering, unbelievable $487 million.
Let me say that again.
DOLLARS PER HELICOPTER.
People, this is absolutely freaking bugnuts batshit INSANE!!!
The unit cost of a single Sikorsky UH-60 Blackhawk, used in the thousands by the US and other armed forces and already flying in the Presidential transport squadron, is approximately $14 million. For the price of one VH-71 we could buy 34 Blackhawks and have change left over.
The unit cost of a Sikorsky S-92 medium helicopter (which competed with - and lost to - the EH101 for the Presidential helicopter contract) is between $16 and $20 million. Even at the higher price, we could buy 24 of them for the price of one VH-71.
The cost of a Boeing 737 airliner is approximately $85 million for the latest version. We could buy five of them for less than the cost of one VH-71.
The unit cost of the US Air Force's new KC-45 tanker aircraft is estimated by various sources to be anywhere from $170 to $200 million (that figure is subject to confirmation). If it's accurate, we could buy two KC-45's for the cost of one VH-71 and have tens of millions in change.
The unit cost of an Airbus A380 superjumbo, the latest and largest airliner ever to enter service, is said to be $320 million - fully equipped to handle up to 600 passengers and crew. (Heck, the toilets on the A380 probably represent several times more usable space than a couple of VH-71's!)
The unit cost of an F-22 Raptor stealth fighter, including the amortization of all development costs across the planned total purchase of 183 aircraft, is approximately $350 million.
Would somebody please explain to me, in small words that my cringing mind can grasp and comprehend, why a Presidential helicopter should cost so much more than any of these aircraft?
As far as I'm concerned, the base cost of the helicopter should not exceed $25 million. I base that figure on the cost of commercial competitors to the EH-101 helicopter.
So HOW THE HELL do the bean-counters justify the additional $462 million or so that we, the taxpayers of this country, are expected to cough up per aircraft?
Dammit, it would probably cost less to gold-plate the darn thing, silver-plate the rotor blades, hand-carve the seats out of rare tropical woods, inlay them with semi-precious stones and provide genuine mink fur upholstery!
This is the most colossal budgetary boondoggle I've ever heard of from the Washington establishment. I'm not alone in pointing this out, either.
I simply can't understand why howls of outrage aren't ascending from every single commentator on both sides of the US political divide. Surely one's politics don't matter when it comes to identifying financial waste and - dare I say? - fraudulent expenditure on this scale? Yes, I call it fraud - a fraud perpetrated by the US government on the US taxpayer.
The sooner this entire program is canceled, the better. I hope you'll contact your Congressional and Senate representatives to express your outrage. If you don't, and the US Government gets away with this, then we have no excuse to complain about other pork-barrel spending from our representatives.
After all, given this example (and others like it), they'll understand all too well that most Americans simply don't care when they pour our tax money down a bottomless pit of waste.