Berberich: Obamacopters for Uganda

While perusing my favorite news Web sites during class last week, I came upon an article explaining that President Barack Obama is facing a decision on whether or not to upgrade his helicopter fleet.

The fleet of presidential choppers, known as Marine One when the chief is on board, is aging and suffers mechanical problems - also reasons we replaced former Vice President Dick Cheney.

Six years ago, the Bush administration awarded a contract to Lockheed-Martin to build 28 ultra-modern helicopters that would essentially be rotary-wing versions of Air Force One, with a similar capability to allow the president to run the country from the air if necessary.

The controversy comes from the price tag. Originally, the project had a receipt of $6.1 billion. That was plenty of cash, even before our collective appreciation of dollar amounts was shattered by the bailout and stimulus package. As the project has gone on, however, it is now at $11.2 billion, and is so over-budget that the law requires a review. President Obama has the ultimate option of canceling the plan.

Despite the huge price tag, the president should allow the plan to carry on, but in a manner that keeps the cost from skyrocketing futher. I've got three great reasons why Lockheed should be allowed to continue building the 64-foot long, missile-evading, nuclear apocalypse-resistant Death Choppers:

First, you don't want the president of the United States flying around in an aging helicopter. Some of the birds that carry the Marine One moniker are 35 years old. Helicopters are highly sophisticated, intricate machines. There's an old engineering creed that says that the more moving parts you have in a piece of equipment, the more likely it is that something's bound to break. To take any sort of chance involving the safety of our nation's leader, whether it's Barack Obama or his successor down the road, is simply not worth the risk.

Second, financing a little home-grown aerospace ingenuity is never a bad thing. The name Lockheed-Martin is strongly connected with America, the construction process would surely maintain a few jobs here in the U.S., and we'll take whatever we can get on that front.

Third, the commander of the African Union-United Nations joint peacekeeping force in Darfur, UNAMID, is in desperate need of helicopters to help quell the rebel movement in the region. Gen. Martin L. Agwai has requested 18 choppers - and the only nation to answer the call so far? Ethiopia, with a donation of five aircrafts.

If President Obama upgrades his personal fleet of helicopters, we've suddenly got over 30 aircrafts we can donate or lend to the UNAMID force. Those helicopters would be an incredibly effective strategic boost to the mission to end the genocide there, an action in the interest of American - and worldwide - security.

I actually wouldn't mind getting my hands on a "white-top" myself - it would certainly make trips over to South Side quicker, and I'd be sure to give the traditional Nixonian double-V salute each time I boarded.

Alex Berberich is a sophomore IR major who thinks "Obamacopters for Uganda" would make a great band name.