By Peter Baker
Monday, March 17, 2008; Page A01
A year after Sept. 11, 2001, the White House set out to build a fleet of state-of-the-art Marine One helicopters for the al-Qaeda age that would be safer, more powerful and more reliable than the iconic white-topped aircraft that have landed on the South Lawn for decades.
But the al-Qaeda age has met the military acquisition process. Six years later, the cost of the new helicopters has nearly doubled, production has fallen behind schedule, and the bulk of the program has been put on hold while the government tries to figure out how to salvage it.
The Pentagon confirmed this month that the cost of the fleet of 28 new super-sophisticated helicopters has jumped from $6.1 billion when the contract was signed in 2005 to $11.2 billion today. Outfitted with cutting-edge communications equipment, antimissile defenses and hardened hulls, each of the VH-71 helicopters, to be dubbed Marine One whenever the president is onboard, will cost $400 million — more than the most recent Boeing 747 jetliner outfitted to serve as Air Force One when it was delivered in 1990, even when adjusted for inflation.