The Boeing jets built for a now-bankrupt Russian firm that will comprise the next Air Force One fleet won’t be able to refuel mid-flight, Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the Senate on Tuesday.
The decision was not driven by the US Air Force, Dunford said, but instead was “made by the White House.”
The loss of capability immediately drew criticism. Not being able to put more fuel into Air Force One as it flies “will be a limiting factor,” Dunford said, noting that military brass will “have to plan accordingly.”
“We may need to revisit that decision,” Senator Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas) said during an Armed Services Committee hearing Tuesday.
The capability has been touted as a way to help keep a president airborne for as long as needed in the event of a terrestrial disaster, including nuclear war, while allowing the commander in chief to funnel down orders.
US President Donald Trump has sought to apply his cost-cutting approach from the private sector to programs like F-35 production and the presidential aircraft fleet. “Boeing is building a brand new 747 Air Force One for future presidents, but costs are out of control, more than $4 billion. Cancel order!” Trump tweeted December 6, 2016, before his inauguration.
On September 13, Boeing captured a contract valued at $600 million to do design work on the planes, including installing communications systems, electrical circuits, a medical facility and an executive suite.
Trump falsely claimed responsibility for lower F-35 per-unit costs earlier this year, even though service officials widely expected cheaper joint strike fighters as a result of economies of scale.