President-elect Donald Trump has hit the F-35 programme once again, this time courting Lockheed Martin competitor Boeing for the Joint Strike Fighter mission.
Trump delivered the news in a 21 December tweet: “Based on the tremendous cost and cost overruns of the Lockheed Martin F-35, I have asked Boeing to price-out a comparable F-18 Super Hornet!"
Trump’s tweet follows meetings with several US generals, including F-35 programme executive officer Lt Gen Chris Bogdan. The president elect’s reaction indicates Bogdan’s attempt to present a more nuanced picture of the F-35 programme and costs failed to sway Trump.
While noting the programme’s costs and schedule have improved since its rebaseline in 2011, Bogdan did not present the most optimistic picture of the F-35 programme during a roundtable with reporters on 21 December. The programme may need up to $532 million more to finish development, but Bogdan says the real number is closer to $265 million. The Department of Defense still owes the Joint Programme Office $100 million which it borrowed to pay other expenses and the F-35 programme requires $165 milllion to accommodate new requirements such as redesigning the autonomic logistics information system (ALIS) to make the system deployable.
"If you put $500 million of overrun, please explain that half of that was supposed to be money that I had already in the bank, the $265 million," Bogdan said in a plea to reporters and perhaps the president-elect.
It was not immediately clear how an F/A-18E/F proposal could be used as a bargaining chip in negotiations between Trump and Lockheed.
The short take-off and vertical landing F-35B could not be replaced by the F/A-18E/F, which needs a catapult to take-off from a carrier and an arresting system to land. The F/A-18E/F is a natural, albeit non-very low observable (VLO) stealth, replacement for the F-35C, but that variant represents a fraction of the overall programme of record. To achieve significant savings, Trump may have to propose the F/A-18E/F as an alternative for the F-35A, an aircraft operated by the US Air Force, which has never shown interest in the navy's fighter.
Trump’s provocative tweets have reverberated across the Defense Department and industry since his election in November. During a roundtable with reporters on 21 December, Bogdan made the only sure forecast amid an already tempestuous presidency.
“I cannot predict what the new administration will do and I’ll just leave it at that,” Bogdan says.
Boeing has previously been attacked by another one of Trump's tweets about "out of control costs" in the Air Force One replacement programme, but the company may now sense an opportunity to take business away from a key rival.
Within an hour of Trump's F-35 tweet on 22 December, Boeing's official corporate Twitter account responded: "Ready to work with @realDonaldTrump's administration to affordably meet US military requirements."