The Italian Almanac

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Marine One

Obama Freezes Marine One

United States President Barack Obama may freeze a contract to buy presidential helicopters from a US-British-Italian consortium, White House Spokesman Robert Gibbs said. Quizzed by CNN on whether Obama might suspend the new `Marine One` because of cost overruns, Gibbs said: ``That`s exactly the issue (Obama) addressed with the (Defense) Secretary (Robert M. Gates)``.

In a meeting with Congressional representatives, Obama called the Lockheed Martin-AgustaWestland project an example of military procurement ``gone amok`` and said he had spoken to Gates about it. He said he had asked the defense secretary to conduct a ``thorough review of the helicopter situation``. ``The helicopter I have now seems perfectly adequate to me,`` Obama said at a White House summit on fiscal responsibility, adding in jest, ``obviously I did not have a helicopter before``.

The estimated price of the helicopter program has almost doubled over the last three years, from $6.1 billion to $11.2 billion. Obama was responding to a call from his former presidential rival Senator John McCain, the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services panel, to stem cost overruns in many military programs. ``Your helicopter is going to cost as much as Air Force One,`` McCain told the president.

Lockheed Martin and AgustaWestland have already said the contract has been placed ``under review,`` stressing that it was a ``normal procedure`` when costs rise by more than 25%. The amenities on the new choppers would be closer to Air Force One than the 30-year-old helicopters they would replace. It would be equipped with a protected communications suite and advanced navigation systems, as well as a kitchen and a bathroom.