After Cost Cuts, Trump Now Says F-35 Program ‘very Much in Control'

WASHINGTON -- Following months of negotiations, President Donald Trump signaled satisfaction Friday at defense contractor Lockheed Martin’s efforts to reduce costs for the company’s F-35 stealth fighter jet program.After speaking at a Boeing airplane plant in South Carolina, Trump told reporters that the F-35 program “was out of control and now it’s very much in control.”The comments appear to put a bookend -- at least for now -- on a tumultuous few months for the F-35 program. Though the president praised Lockheed for “doing very well” on the F-35 program, he continued to threaten to replace the plane with Boeing-made F/A-18s “if the price doesn’t come down.”Trump first complained in December that costs are “out of control” for the F-35, alarming many in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, where thousands of jobs are dependent on the jets that are assembled at Lockheed’s Fort Worth factory.After Trump summoned Lockheed chief executive Marillyn Hewson to Trump Tower and his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida during the transition, she appeared to appease the president when she credited him last week with helping to bring down the costs for a new round of F-35 jets -- even though the reduced costs had already been in the works for months.Lockheed trimmed about $600 million from the F-35 program’s cost in its most recent contract with the Pentagon, selling the fighter jets for under $100 million a piece, down from $102 million in an order from a few months ago. “President Trump’s personal involvement in the F-35 program,” Hewson said in a written statement, “accelerated the negotiations and sharpened our focus on driving down the price.”Boeing has pitched a stealthy F-18 as a replacement for the F-35, but experts say the capabilities of the two planes are not comparable.Lt. Gen. Chris Bogdan, the Pentagon officer in charge of the F-35 program, revealed Thursday that Boeing chief executive Dennis Muilenburg -- Lockheed’s primary competitor -- was listening in on a call between him and Trump in January. As a result of the questions Trump raised on the call, that Bogdan said he did not have answers for at the time, Defense Secretary James Mattis directed his department to review the F-35 program to find ways to "significantly reduce the cost."During Trump’s South Carolina speech, he continued to toy with the idea of switching out the two planes, teasing the Boeing-friendly crowd of employees as the company rolled out its latest model, the 787-10 Dreamliner."By the way, do you care if we use the F-18 Super Hornets?” Trump asked the crowd. “We are looking seriously at a big order. The problem is that Dennis is a very, very tough negotiator, but I think we may get there."Though the F-35 has struggled with cost overruns and technical issues for several years, building a vocal group of detractors in the defense industry, the program has seen some positive developments in recent months. Bogdan said at a congressional hearing Thursday that the F-35's strong performance at the Red Flag training exercise at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada far exceeded his expectations. Rep. Marc Veasey, a Fort Worth Democrat on the House armed services committee, said this week that the program “is in a very good place right now.”Lockheed Martin declined to comment on Trump's most recent remarks."We're going to save billions and billions of dollars, many billions of dollars,” Trump said Friday of his ongoing negotiations. “Most important we are going to have a great product from both Boeing and Lockheed."  Continue reading...

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