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White House helicopters under review: Obama

world Updated: Feb 24, 2009 07:25 IST

President Barack Obama never had a helicopter, which he says might explain why he is perfectly happy with the current White House fleet and does not need a more costly one. At the conclusion of a fiscal meeting at the White House on 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.

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 already has 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 U.S. Navy, 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 that the program be re-certified as a national security requirement by senior Pentagon leaders.

The Navy waited almost 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 budget for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1, 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 night.

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.