Defense Secretary Orders Pentagon to Review F-35 Costs Amid Trump Criticism

WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary James Mattis, days after he was confirmed to take over the Pentagon, ordered the department Thursday to conduct a review of the F-35 program to find ways to “significantly reduce the cost” of the program.The moves comes amid sustained criticism from President Donald Trump that costs for the stealth fighter jet program are “out of control” and repeated promises from Lockheed Martin CEO Marillyn Hewson that the company is looking to find ways to comply with Trump’s demands.Mattis’ memo directs his deputy, Robert Work, to “determine opportunities” for cost reduction while maintaining and the jet’s current requirements and to assess ways that F-18 Super Hornets could be improved to serve as a “cost effective” alternative for the F-35s.The F-35 jets are assembled at Lockheed Martin’s Fort Worth plant, where the defense contractor is headquartered and supplies thousands of jobs in the area. Hewson recently told Trump the company would be adding 1,800 more Fort Worth jobs.An analysis by Defense One, a publication that covers the military, found that the F-35 costs have already “come down dramatically” since the first series was ordered in 2007.After meeting with the Lockheed and Boeing CEOs in December at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, Trump said he asked Boeing to price out a “comparable F-18 Super Hornet.” Critics noted that F-18s lack the stealth capabilities that distinguish the F-35s, but Mattis’ memorandum directs the review to compare the two planes and consider ways the F-18 can provide competition.Republican Rep. Kay Granger, whose Fort Worth district includes the Lockheed Martin assembly plant, took over as chairman of the House defense appropriations subcommittee that oversees funding for the department earlier this month.A longtime supporter of the F-35 program, Granger declined to comment on Mattis’ directive, but she has recently said that she has no problem with Trump’s desire to “watch every penny we’re spending.”The F-35 review could potentially impact current and future Defense Department budgets, a Pentagon spokesman said.Mattis offered praise of the F-35 in his Senate confirmation hearings earlier this month, and both Texas Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz said they were encouraged to hear of Mattis' commitment to the program.Hewson told Lockheed shareholders on an earnings call this week that the company is “very close to a deal” with Trump on the F-35 program."President Trump recognizes that the F-35 is a very large program — the largest program in the Department of Defense," Hewson said. "He wants to make the sure that the American taxpayer is getting the lowest possible cost on the program."Shares for Lockheed Martin fell by more than half a percent in the wake of the news of the review, following a recurring pattern after each time the F-35 has made headlines in recent months. The F-35 has been a major source of profit for the company, despite the recent disputes with Trump, as Hewson described the program as a “growth engine” for the company.  Continue reading...

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