June 11 (UPI) -- Sikorsky has been awarded a $542 million contract to build six VH-92A helicopters as part of the presidential fleet.
The low rate initial production contract includes interim contractor support, initial spares, support equipment and system parts replenishment, the Defense Department announced Monday.
When the president is one of the current helicopters in the presidential fleet, including the future S-92A variant, it is designated as Marine One.
Work is expected to be completed in April 2022, with initial operational test and evaluation planned for mid-2020 and initial operational capability in late 2020.
Fifty percent of the work will be performed in the company's plant in Stratford, Conn.; 36 percent in Coatesville, Pa.; 10 percent in Owego, N.Y.; 3 percent in Patuxent River, Md.; and 1 percent in Quantico, Va.
Naval fiscal 2019 aircraft procurement funds in the full amount will be obligated at time of award, none of which will expire at the end of the current fiscal year.
"I am proud of the combined government and contractor team who has worked so hard to transition this program into initial production and did so at over $1 billion less than the program's cost baseline," James F. Geurts, assistant secretary of the Navy for research, development and acquisition, said in a Navy news release.
The Navy plans to replace the current Marine Corps fleet of 19 helicopters -- the VH-3D, which entered service in 1978, and VH-60N aircraft, which arrived in 1987, with 23 aircraft. Dwight D. Eisenhower was the first president to travel on a helicopter, the Bell UH-13J Sioux, in 1957.
The VH-92A aircraft will increase performance and payload, the Navy said, including crew coordination systems and communications capabilities, plus improve availability and maintainability.
"The team has efficiently leveraged a proven platform with cutting edge government mission systems for rapid agile development of the next helicopters to fly presidential missions," Geurts said.
In 2018, the GAO found the helicopter hadn't met a capability requirement for landing without damaging the landing zone, including the White House South Lawn. Sikorsky said it plans to have a solution for the performance requirement by November 2020.
In addition, the VH-92A program has experienced problems connecting the aircraft's communication system to secure networks because of changes in network security requirements. The Navy said it anticipates a fix by January 2020.
In April, the Government Accountability Office said the cost to replace the U.S. president's aging helicopter fleet is some $234 million less than budgeted in 2014. The cost is about $215 million for each of the 23 helicopters.
While President Donald Trump has been critical of the cost to replace the jets that act as Air Force One -- the price has actually gone up since he took office -- helicopters planned to join the Marine One fleet have not had his attention.
Before becoming president, on Dec. 6, 2016, Trump posted on Twitter: "Boeing is building a brand new 747 Air Force One for future presidents, but costs are out of control, more than $4 billion. Cancel order!"
The pair of modified Boeing 747-8is has been determined to cost $4.68 billion, if not more.
"Marine One does not appear to actively be on his radar," Ray Jaworowski, senior aerospace analyst at Forecast International, told National Defense in 2017. "That having been said, should it run into cost overrun problems or schedule delays, that type of thing could well get the attention of the president."