The U.S. Air Force has installed a two-star general to oversee Boeing’s fledgling Air Force One replacement, adding a new level of scrutiny to the high-profile program just months after President Donald Trump criticized its excessive cost.
The Air Force promoted Brig. Gen. Duke Richardson to major general to fill the newly created position of Program Executive Officer (PEO) for Presidential Airlift Recapitalization (PAR), according to spokeswoman Ann Stefanek.
The move shows the Air Force is taking seriously Trump’s criticism of the high cost of Boeing’s new Air Force One. Richardson is an apt apt choice for the job – as PEO for tankers he currently heads development of the next-generation KC-46 Pegasus, also a high-profile Boeing program.
The Air Force decided to create the new two-star position due to recent high level interest in the Air Force One recap program and a desire to place it “under strong and effective senior general officer leadership,” Stefanek said. The presidential aircraft program was previously under PEO Mobility.
Trump slammed the cost of Boeing’s new Air Force One, based on the 747-8, in a tweet just before taking office, saying costs are out of control at more than $4 billion to develop two aircraft, and calling on the Air Force to cancel the order. Soon afterwards Trump met with Boeing head Dennis Muilenberg, who personally promised to deliver a new Air Force One for less than $4 billion.
Since then, Trump has claimed he saved $1 billion on the new aircraft, which will replace the two modified Boeing 747-200s that currently make up the Air Force One fleet. The only problem is, the Air Force is stumped by the claim, with multiple officials saying they have no idea what Trump is talking about.
The Air Force did recently finalize a requirements review of PAR, directed by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, according to Lt. Gen. Arnie Bunch, the service’s top uniformed acquisition official. The service has made some changes to the requirements that Bunch said he hopes will drive down the cost of the program, but he would not provide details.
So far PAR is in its very early stages – the government has so far awarded Boeing just $170 million in development contracts for risk reduction and other preliminary work. The Air Force has budgeted $2.87 billion in research and development funds through fiscal 2021 to build two aircraft for fielding in 2024, and the U.S. Government Accountability Office projects the total cost will be $3.2 billion.
Richardson becomes program executive for the presidential aircraft immediately. However, he will continue as PEO for tankers until his replacement, Col. Donna Shipton, arrives in early June, Stefanek said.
[Editor's Note: This blog was amended to correct aircraft designations.]