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F-35 chief confirms phone call with Trump and Boeing CEO

F-35 programme executive officer Lt Gen Chris Bogdan has confirmed Boeing chief executive Dennis Muilenberg participated in a phone call with then-president-elect Donald Trump about how the Lockheed Martin F-35 competes with the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet.

During a 16 February congressional hearing, Bogdan told members he made two phone calls to Trump before his inauguration. While Trump spoke with Bogdan on a 9 January call, Muilenberg was included in a 17 January call.

"The president elect clearly identified that Mr. Muilenberg was on the other end of the phone when we had that discussion," Bogdan told reporters following the hearing. "I would consider those calls to be very forthright, he asked a lot of very good questions because he was in the learning mode."

Trump was attempting to gain more information on the programme’s affordability, a version of the Super Hornet that could compete with the F-35C and the Air Force One recapitalisation, which Boeing will execute, Bogdan says. Those discussions were pre-decisional, he adds.

Although Bogdan would not comment on whether he found Muilenberg's presence inappropriate, he says the contents of the call encompassed publicly releasable information.

"I understand the rules about talking about Lockheed Martin stuff in front of Mr. Muilenberg," he says. "The reason why Mr. Muilenberg was there was because the discussion was about advanced Super Hornets and presidential airplanes and not necessarily F-35s. So it was not inappropriate."

That conversation also laid the foundation of a 26 January memo from Defense secretary James Mattis, which ordered deputy secretary of defense Bob Work to examine ways to reduce the cost of the both the F-35 and Air Force One replacement programmes.

The review will only take the F-35C carrier variant into consideration, which represents the smallest order of F-35s and will be delivered to the US Navy and Marine Corps.

Those tasks are ongoing and have not yet been completed, Bogdan adds. Going forward, Bogdan expects Secretary Mattis will relay information about the F-35 to President Trump, which follows practiced procedure.

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