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The President’s $17 Billion Helicopter Fleet

Monday May 26th, 2014   •   Posted by K. Lloyd Billingsley at 7:13am PDT   •  

Helicopter_200Taxpayers calculating the cost of government should remain on full alert for waste on all fronts, but particularly in the military. Consider, for example, this story in the Daily Beast about the new fleet of presidential helicopters.

These will be “the most expensive helicopters ever made,” with each one logging in at $400 million, rivaling the cost of Air Force One, the president’s Boeing 747. The entire fleet of at least 23 helicopters – the president always flies with decoys – will cost between $10 billion and $17 billion. At the higher figure, which is likely, this project alone “could pay the combined defense budgets of Finland, Norway, and Sweden for one year.”

The push for new presidential helicopters began a decade ago and the initial cost was $6.5 billion, a mere $232 million per helicopter. This program “spun rapidly out of control” but easily consumed $3 billion before cancellation in 2009. Now the Pentagon is paying Sikorsky an initial $1.24 billion for the new fleet.

President Obama told reporters that “the helicopter I have seems perfectly adequate to me,” but the president added: “Of course, I’ve never had a helicopter before. Maybe I’ve been deprived and I didn’t know it.” He won’t get the chance to find out because the new fleet will not be operational until 2022. Eager spenders have long hailed the new presidential helicopters as a “good idea,” but even some hawks think otherwise. Sen. John McCain told reporters, “I don’t think there’s any more graphic demonstration of how good ideas have cost taxpayers an enormous amount of money.” Even so, it is hardly the only example of military waste.

As we noted in Tanks for the Memories and Tanks A Lot, the M1 Abrams tank is a formidable machine but unsuitable for the asymmetrical warfare more common in today’s world. The military has plenty of M1s and doesn’t want any new ones. But politicians still push for more tanks, and now they want to spend $17 billion on a new fleet of presidential helicopters. This confirms that, with the federal government, waste has wings and quickly flies out of control.

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May 2014