June 5 (UPI) -- The program to replace the presidential helicopter has been delayed to address communications-related issues, a Government Accountability Office report said.
The GAO's Defense Acquisitions Annual Assessment, released this week, notes that the mission communications system of the U.S.Navy's Presidential Helicopter Replacement Program requires "more time to address MCS-related challenges."
It said that the system, not in use in any other military aircraft, had "performance shortfalls, some of which led to inconsistent and unreliable communications" during testing.
"The program has delayed initial fielding [of the helicopters] by three months to January 2021, in part to provide more time to address MCS-related challenges," the report said. "The MCS-upgraded software's effectiveness remains an area of concern."
The plan calls for 23 VH-92A helicopters, made by Lockheed Martin subsidiary Sikorsky Aircraft Corp., to replace the fleet of aging VH-3D and MH-60N helicopters. The aircraft are operated by the U.S. Marine Corps to transport the president and other officials.
The VH-92A also "has yet to demonstrate that it can meet the requirement to land on the White House South Lawn without causing damage," the report said. "Heat from the auxiliary power unit and/or engine exhaust continue to damage the lawn under certain conditions."
Aircraft design and lawn surface treatments are under review, the report adds.
The White House helicopter program is part of a 241-page GAO review of 121 Defense Department acquisition programs, which total $1.86 trillion in cost. That figure is a four percent increase over the previous year and includes 15 major information technology investments at a cost of $15.1 billion.