The upgraded ‘Marine One’ presidential helicopter will still scorch the White House lawn

After more than $1 billion spent in development, a small price to pay?
Max Hauptman Avatar
The Sikorsky VH-92 helicopter, which configured as the Marine One replacement, takes off from the South Lawn of the White House after a practice landing June 14, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

The President sometimes needs to use a helicopter. And that helicopter – Marine One – needs to have all the latest avionics and communications systems available for its unique mission. 

The latest iteration of Marine One, the Sikorsky VH-92A, is now beginning its “commissioning” process after Bloomberg reported that, following more than a decade of delays, the helicopter has achieved “initial operating capability.’” Back in 2010, the Sikorsky VH-92A was first proposed as a replacement for the VH-3D and VH-60N presidential helicopters – which currently fulfill the role of Marine One.

In December, Lt. Gen. Mark Wise, the Marine Corps deputy commandant for aviation, announced that the Marines had enough trained personnel to operate the helicopter. That doesn’t mean the VH-92A will start its unique mission of transporting the President anytime soon, though. 

A National Security Council spokesperson told Bloomberg in a statement that the White House Military Office “will make a recommendation for scenarios in which the VH-92A can be utilized for Presidential transportation.”

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Jay Stefany, the Navy’s acting assistant secretary for research and acquisition, told Bloomberg that the helicopter “will probably start not with White House missions but other missions.”

That means it is “operationally effective” for routine “administrative” missions like a run to Camp David or delivering the president to Joint Base Andrews outside Washington for a pre-planned trip on Air Force One, Stars and Stripes reported in November 2021.

In other words, this advanced helicopter is flying, but not in its intended mission, at least for now. 

At a cost a $5 billion, the program is meant to provide 23 of these aircraft to transport the president and vice president in Washington and when they travel, in tandem with Air Force One planes. Presidents have traveled by helicopter since Dwight D. Eisenhower was in office.

Last September, an internal summary from the U.S. Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) test office described the VH-92A as “failing to meet the reliability, availability or maintainability threshold requirements” required of it.

That report also pointed to shortcomings in the Mission Communication System of the aircraft, which is meant to keep the President connected to the National Command Authority. Basically, to keep the President in the loop in the event of a nuclear war. 

According to the report, the Mission Communications System “often delayed critical communications at the beginning of contingency missions and did not adequately support timely, continuous and secure communications.”

As reported by The War Zone, MCS is a wideband line-of-sight communication link made up of two separate systems: Hydra Light and Crisis Management. The Hydra Light system consists of a radio, antenna, and amplifier that allow voice over IP (VoIP) calls to be made using the Phoenix Air-to-Ground Communications Network (PAGCN) structure, according to Navy budget documents. The Crisis Management system is the router, call manager, and High Assurance Internet Protocol Encryptor (HAIPE) required to connect to the Defense Information Systems Agency’s secure network.

One issue that apparently remains unresolved? The fact that this new Marine One scorches the grass on the White House lawn when it is taking off. 

Going back to Sept. 2019, it’s been found that the exhaust of the VH-92 can, under certain conditions, affect a grass landing zone,” and cause “discoloration of landing zone.”

Safely transporting the president and ensuring clear lines of communication remain open in the event of nuclear war, not scorching the grass,  are all important missions for the next Marine One. Though hopefully they get those first two worked out before the aircraft is deemed fully operational. Marines can always tend to the grass in the interim.

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