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Air Force One needs new refrigerators — that’ll be $24 million

Air Force One (U.S. Air Force/Flickr)

  • The Air Force awarded Boeing a contract to replace two “chillers,” or refrigerators, on Air Force One.
  • The total cost will be $23,657,671.
  • The refrigerator contract came at the end of a year of turmoil for the Air Force One program.

In December, the Air Force awarded Boeing a contract to replace two “chillers,” or refrigerators, on Air Force One — for a total cost of $23,657,671.

“The Air Force requires that the current air chillers in the G12 and G13 galleys be modified with new cold food stowage to improve reliability and maintainability … with an expected completion date of Oct. 30, 2019,” the contract notice states.

But, according to Marcus Weisgerber of Defense One, the high cost isn’t a defense-contractor boondoggle, but rather it’s indicative of the high standards and high costs of operating Air Force One.

The presidential jet, which must be able to serve as a mobile national command center, needs to carry enough food for weeks at a time without resupply — up to 3,000 meals.

Five such chillers cool 26 climate-controlled compartments, the Air Force says, according to Weisgerber. The two chillers Boeing is to provide will cool eight of those compartments.

The refrigerators on the plane date back to 1990, when Boeing first turned it over to the Air Force.

Despite undergoing maintenance, the fridges’ reliability has declined, and they are now unable to support those mission requirements, an Air Force spokesperson said.

While the technology used in them is not unique, the fridges have to be designed, tested, and certified with the specific requirements of Air Force One in mind, the spokesperson told Defense One. Those costs are included in the total price. Many contractors who work on the Air Force One jets are also required to have high-level security clearances.

The refrigerator contract came at the end of a year of turmoil for the Air Force One program. In December 2016, President Donald Trump criticized the high costs of the Boeing-led program to replace the two Boeing 747-200-based VC-25A aircraft that began serving as the presidential jets in 1990.

Trump’s push to cut costs led the Air Force to decide to buy two Boeing 747-8 Intercontinental airliners and convert them to serve as Air Force One rather than buying custom-made aircraft. The planes in question were built for a Russian airline that went defunct before it could take delivery. Boeing held on to them while it looked for a new buyer, though the Air Force has not said how much it paid for the planes.

In August 2017, the Air Force said that it wouldn’t mandate the new planes have in-flight refueling systems, in order to cut costs.

Scrapping that mandate elicited dismay in Congress. “I think we might need to revisit that decision here on Capitol Hill,” Arkansas Republican Sen. Tom Cotton said in September.