President Donald Trump’s defense secretary, James Mattis, has ordered reviews of the multibillion-dollar programs to acquire new Air Force One jets and more F-35 fighter jets – two programs that sparked his boss’ ire in the run-up to his inauguration.
“Yesterday Secretary Mattis directed separate reviews of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program and the Presidential Aircraft Recapitalization program,” Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, said today in a statement quoted by The Hill. “The purpose of these reviews is to inform programmatic and budgetary decisions, recognizing the critical importance of each of these acquisition programs.”
Lockheed Martin is the main contractor for the F-35 program, which has experienced cost overruns and production delays. The Boeing Co. is working with the Air Force on the specifications for two replacement Air Force One jets to be used for presidential flights.
Last month, Trump tweeted that the Air Force One project should be canceled. He charged that the estimated cost was mounting to more than $4 billion, even though Boeing and the Air Force were still working out the requirements for the two modified 747-8 jets under the terms of a much smaller $170 million contract.
In a different set of tweets posted days later, Trump complained that F-35 costs were “out of control.” Lockheed Martin expects to sell thousands of the jets to the U.S. and its allies for a return that could eventually add up to close to $400 billion.
During follow-up meetings with the then-president-elect, top executives for both Boeing and Lockheed Martin pointed out that they were already taking measures to control expenses but pledged to work for further cost reductions.
Trump tried to play the two aerospace giants off against each other by hinting that the Pentagon could start buying modified F/A-18 jets from Boeing rather than Lockheed Martin’s F-35. Today the Pentagon said its review of the F-35 would include a comparison with the F/A-18.
Boeing has said it’s willing to work with the Trump administration “to affordably meet U.S. military requirements.” However, outside observers say even modified versions of the F/A-18 would not be sufficiently stealthy to substitute for the F-35.
In a tweeted statement, Lockheed Martin said it “stands ready” to support the Pentagon’s F-35 review, and repeated its view that “there are opportunities to continue to drive down program costs”:
— Lockheed Martin (@LockheedMartin) January 27, 2017