As the upgraded version of Air Force One is still a few years away, the United States Air Force (USAF) has announced that it intends to upgrade the capabilities of the VC-25A, the aircraft that currently transports the US President.
The USAF wants up to $29.7 million in FY2024 to modernize the VC-25A, commonly known as the Air Force One, as the uniformed service will have to wait until the VC-25Bs are ready for service. According to the USAF’s budget request for FY2024, the Secretary of the Air Force (SecAF) determined that several capabilities modifications are “in the national security interest of the United States”.
Those modifications include Low Latency Worldwide Data Connections, Aggregated Throughput Bandwidth, Non-Space/Global Position System (GPS) Based Dependent Wideband Data Service, Multi-Role Tactical Common Data Link (MRTCDL), and Diminishing Manufacturing Sources and Material Shortages (DMSMS).
Furthermore, it’s considered that “service bulletins and Low Cost Modifications are necessary for continuing Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) airworthiness certification while improving flight safety, reliability, and maintainability”.
The two VC-25A are based on the Boeing 747-200.
The purpose of these “on-going modifications are to extend the service life until the VC-25B aircraft are fielded,” noted the USAF.
In FY2024, for example, the USAF plans to spend around $749,000 each on both service bulletins and low-cost modifications, while the Block Upgrade program, including the aforementioned capability modifications, will set the operator of the pair of aircraft back as much as $28.2 million.
In FY2023, the USAF had a budget of $2.4 million to modify its in-service VC-25As. Going beyond FY2024, the service branch wants to invest $12.5 million and $9.3 million in FY2025 and FY2026, respectively. However, when the USAF put forward the budget request for FY2023 in April 2022, it planned to spend no more than $1 million per year in FY2024 and FY2025.
Air Force One delays
Then, in July 2022, the introduction of VC-25B was delayed by two years, with a new planned entry-into-service date of September 2026. The second Air Force One, based on the Boeing 747-8I, would arrive in late 2027 or early 2028.
Subsequently, that plan would change. When the USAF released the renderings of the new livery of the Air Force One in March 2023, it stated that “VC-25B deliveries are projected for 2027 for the first aircraft and 2028 for the second aircraft”.
By Q4 2022, Boeing booked a total of $1.4 billion in reach-forward losses due to increased cost estimates, labor instability and inefficiencies, higher supplier costs, and “higher levels of engineering design changes due to technical requirements which are driving increased rework and schedule delays”.
The total cost of the fixed-price contract for the pair of VC-25Bs was $4.3 billion. Boeing will release its Q1 2023 results on April 26, 2023.