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Pentagon narrows options on presidential helicopter
Pentagon narrows options on presidential helicopter

Recent meetings among top Pentagon, Navy and Lockheed Martin Corp officials helped narrow the options for restructuring the $ 6.1 billion VH-71 presidential helicopter program, two sources familiar with the program told Reuters on Tuesday.

During the discussions it became clear the government will need to spend at least an extra $ 1 billion to restructure the second phase of the helicopter program, said the sources, who asked not to be named. The round of meetings, which went for eight hours on Saturday, ended without any major decisions.

Options reviewed included cutting back the program significantly, or replacing the Lockheed US101 helicopter with a modified or upgraded H-3 helicopter built by Sikorsky Aircraft, a unit of United Technologies Corp (UTX.N: Quote, Profile, Research).

"None of the alternatives was as suitable for the mission as the US101," said one of the sources. "It probably helped the US101. There´s not that many helicopters that can carry all that equipment and still land on the White House lawn."

But a long list of additional equipment the White House says it needs would add so much weight to the helicopter that the Lockheed US101 would require major changes, including possibly lengthening the tail, said the source.

Some of the White House changes are relatively minor, such as plush carpeting, while many are classified and include communications equipment and extending the aircraft´s range. Rotor changes were also under discussion.

Lockheed and its European partner, AgustaWestland, a unit of Italy´s Finmeccanica (SIFI.MI: Quote, Profile, Research), won the contract in 2005. They defeated Sikorsky, which makes the current H-3 and H-60 helicopters used by the Marine Corps to ferry the president.

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