Trump criticizes cost of presidential aircraft recapitalization

By Rachel Cohen / December 6, 2016 at 12:12 PM

President-elect Donald Trump said on Twitter Tuesday morning that the government's contract with Boeing to replace Air Force One should be canceled, alleging the recapitalization program is "out of control" at more than $4 billion.

The Government Accountability Office reported in March that replacing two presidential aircraft would total $3.2 billion through fiscal 2020. That figure includes research and development and procurement costs.

"We are still conducting risk-reduction activities with Boeing to inform the engineering and manufacturing development contract negotiations that will define the capabilities and cost," an Air Force spokesman said in an emailed statement Tuesday afternoon. "We have budgeted $2.7 billion in the Fiscal Year 2017 Future Years Defense Program for Research, Development, Test & Evaluation (RDT&E) but expect this number to change as the program matures with the completion of the risk reduction activities."

Boeing's 747-200B will be replaced by a version of the company's commercial 747-8.

"We are currently under contract for $170 million to help determine the capabilities of these complex military aircraft that serve the unique requirements of the President of the United States," the company said. "We look forward to working with the U.S. Air Force on subsequent phases of the program allowing us to deliver the best planes for the President at the best value for the American taxpayer."

Trump also touted Air Force One as a cause of government waste while on the campaign trail, suggesting using his own airplane instead would save taxpayer money.

Todd Harrison, a defense budget analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said in an email Tuesday that upgrading a Trump plane to fit presidential requirements would be unrealistic.

"It's also not feasible to retrofit an existing 757 will the necessary shielding from electromagnetic pulses, anti-air countermeasures, protected communications systems, etc. that Air Force One requires," Harrison wrote. "If he follows through with this threat to cancel the VC-25 replacement program, it means the current aircraft will remain in service longer."

The current presidential aircraft have been in service since the early 1990s.

A production contract is expected in early FY-17, and risk-reduction studies are set to wrap up in 2018. The aircraft are scheduled to reach initial operational capability in 2024, the end of Trump's presidency if he serves for eight years.