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US: End of the world no time for a snack: Obama

Tue Aug 18 05:44:13 EST 2009

PHOENIX, Arizona, Aug 17 AFP - US President Barack Obama, taking aim at costly military programs of questionable value, said Monday he really did not need a new presidential helicopter with an Armageddon-proof kitchen.

"It would let me cook a meal while under nuclear attack," he mused.

"Now, let me tell you something: If the United States of America is under nuclear attack, the last thing on my mind will be whipping up a snack."

Obama's comments came as he pledged to put up "a fight" against "exotic projects that are years behind schedule and billions over budget" in a speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars service organisation.

"This is pretty straightforward: Cut the waste. Save taxpayer dollars. Support the troops," he told the group at its annual convention.

"If a project doesn't support our troops, if it does not make America safer, we will not fund it. If a system doesn't perform, we will terminate it. And if Congress sends me a defence bill loaded with a bunch of pork, I will veto it," he pledged.

Obama has taken aim at plans for a new fleet of Marine One helicopters before, notably at a White House Fiscal Responsibility summit in February, when he said he had ordered a review into the project's huge cost overruns.

The US Navy charged Lockheed Martin to build a new fleet of 28 helicopters to serve as Marine One in 2005. The project originally was meant to cost around $US6 billion ($A7.24 billion) but has skyrocketed up to $US11.2 billion ($A13.51 billion).

Each aircraft would now cost about $US400 million ($A482.33 million) - more than the cost of the two adapted Boeing 747 aircraft now serving as Air Force One.

The new helicopters were to be based on Lockheed's EH-101 aircraft, currently produced by a British-Italian partner.

The new generation of iconic green-and-white helicopters are said to offer the president greater protection and a higher range than current Sikorsky models - some of which are up to 40 years old.

The decision in 2005 to award the contract culminated an intense competition between Lockheed Martin and Sikorsky Aircraft Corp's all-American entry, the S-92.