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Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Chinese bid for defense work stirs protests

Firm seeks contracts on military aircraft

The Southern Tier's congressional representatives are balking at the prospect that a state-run Chinese aviation firm might submit bids for U.S. defense contracts -- including upgrades to the Marine One presidential helicopter fleet previously under contract with Lockheed Martin.

On Tuesday, Democrats U.S. Rep. Maurice Hinchey, D-Hurley, and Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., sent strongly-worded letters to Defense Secretary Robert Gates after reports surfaced that China Aviation Industry Corp., a state-run aviation company, had partnered with a California firm with the intent to submit bids on American military aircraft.

"The president of the United States of America should not be flying around in a helicopter made in China," Hinchey said in a written statement.

The VH-71 presidential helicopter program was awarded to Lockheed Martin in 2005. By 2009, the cost of the project had ballooned from an original estimate of $6.5 billion to $13 billion and Congress cut the program from its fiscal 2010 budget, forcing Lockheed Martin to lay off hundreds of workers at the company's Systems Integration facility in Owego.

In his letter to Gates, Schumer said awarding defense contracts to a foreign firm would hurt national security and take jobs away from the state's workers.

"Allowing a Chinese state-run defense company to possibly provide major defense procurement services that could be adequately provided by a U.S defense company, like Lockheed Martin, would put American workers and particularly workers in the Southern Tier region of New York at a clear disadvantage," Schumer said.

This isn't the first time the prospect of manufacturing parts of the presidential helicopter abroad has raised eyebrows.

In 2005, Hinchey and Schumer defended Lockheed Martin against critics who complained that parts of the initially approved helicopter would be made in Italy and England.

"The relationship is vastly different," said Hinchey spokesman Mike Morosi, who said that while Italy and England are allies, China has a reputation for trying to gain access to critical defense-related technology.

Lockheed Martin spokesman Jeffrey Brown did not respond to requests for comment.

-- Digital Desk Editor Jeff Platsky contributed to this report.

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