Air Force responds to Trump’s concerns over Air Force One costs

Credit: Joe Raedle

Credit: Joe Raedle

The Air Force has put a general in a newly created post in charge of developing the next Air Force One, which is under a Pentagon review after criticism from President Donald Trump about the plane’s costs.

The change shows how seriously the Air Force is taking criticism of a program that costs taxpayers billions of dollars.

Brig. Gen. Duke Richardson, who recently was selected for promotion to a second star, will be in charge of replacing the current fleet of two Air Force One Boeing 747s with a newer version of the jumbo jet, officials said.

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Col. Donna Shipton, recently selected for promotion to a one-star general, will take over Richardson’s role as program executive officer of the Tanker Directorate. Both programs are managed at the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center headquartered at Wright-Patterson.

Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek said the post to oversee development of the next presidential aircraft was “newly created, given the recent high level interest in the program and desire to place the program under strong and effective senior general officer leadership.” The appointment took effect immediately, and Richardson also will oversee the Tanker Directorate until June.

“President Trump’s publicly expressed concerns about the potential cost of a new presidential aircraft undoubtedly had some impact on who the Air Force has chosen to manage the effort,” Loren B. Thompson, a senior defense analyst with the Virginia-based Lexington Institute and defense industry consultant said in an email “Air Force One is a symbol of national power and prestige, so the Air Force needed a manager who could navigate the political aspects as well as the technical side of the program.”

Trump has slammed the cost of a new Air Force One, saying it had more than a $4 billion price tag, and called for its cancellation in a tweet in December prior to assuming the presidency.

Since then, he has met with Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenberg, who told reporters in January the aerospace giant would simplify and streamline requirements “all of which is going to provide a better airplane at a lower cost.”

Defense Secretary James Mattis ordered a review of the program in January.

The Air Force One program has a workforce of about 100 employees at Wright-Patterson. As of February, the Air Force had a $172 million contract for design and testing and had budgeted $2.7 billion through 2021. Final costs were expected by the end of the year for two Boeing 747-8s were expected to reach the presidential fleet in 2024.

Prior to Trump’s election, the White House had urgently pushed for an Air Force One replacement for the two Boeing 747-200s flying today, known as VC-25s in the Air Force.

“The real challenge and the challenge that is forcing us to buy newer aircraft for the president is to overcome the fact there are heroics going on every day to keep the current aircraft flying, and it’s becoming way too expensive and way too difficult to do that,” Kevin W. Buckley, program executive officer of mobility programs, said in an interview last fall with the Dayton Daily News.

Shipton will take ownership of ongoing development and the purchase of an expected fleet of 179 KC-46 aerial refueling tankers. Chicago-headquartered Boeing assembles the new tanker.

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