Trump’s focus on F-35 costs may serve US well

Donald Trump’s latest tweet on the F-35 will cause Lockheed Martin executives to have a not-so-merry Christmas, while the opposite will be true in the Boeing board room. After meeting top executives from both companies and being briefed on the F-35 this week, Trump on Thursday said he has asked Boeing to ‘price-out a comparable F-18 Super Hornet’.

Lockheed Martin’s stock immediately went down again, mirroring the effect of Trump’s earlier tweet about the F-35. However, the president-elect criticism  probably is not pointed at the F-35 itself, but at the program’s costs. Trump has made it very clear now that he will not accept such overruns after he moves into the White House in January. At the same time, Donald Trump seems to be preparing for an arms race, even stating this week that the US should expand its nuclear capabilities.

Being the businessman that he is, Trump obviously wants to keep the costs of such an arms race down. He probably realizes that his country is at a disadvantage compared to Russia and China, who are able to produce weaponry against far lower costs. China for example is developing new stealthy jets at an impressive and alarming rate. In Russia, a single new Sukhoi T-50 is many millions and millions of dollars cheaper than a single new F-35. This is indeed worrying for Trump. The signs of an arms race are already there and not to be ignored.

When it comes to the Boeing F-18 Super Hornet as an alternative for the Lockheed Martin F-35 – that shouldn’t be taken too seriously. It will definitely not be as stealthy and not as capable in the domain of  gathering and spreading data. Also, the F-35 is getting closer to being fully combat ready every day.

But Trump most likely is not interested in ditching the F-35 in favour of a cheaper Super Hornet. He is interested in costs, and that may serve the US well in the end.

© 2016 editor Elmer van Hest
Featured image (top): A US Air Force F-35A, seen at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona. (Image © Elmer van Hest)

One thought on “Trump’s focus on F-35 costs may serve US well”

  1. I’ve read a lot of commentary on this subject, and yours stands out. –It’s the high cost, which Bogdan and Lockheed have given lip service to, while doing nothing except to promote Lockheed’s record profits while the F-35 development program is at fifteen years going for twenty, and time is money. This means that the early six low rate production lots have grown to fourteen and those costs balloon because of high production costs, and each plane must eventually be modified.
    Meanwhile the current crop of 200 or so developmental prototypes are mostly parked in Air Force “training squadrons,” and can’t be deployed in combat.
    So yes it’s cost, but why are the program and unit costs high? The answer to that question does not bring encouragement to the possibility of reducing the cost, except out of Lockheed’s earnings which is not a basic cost-driver like endless problems with software, a helmet which doesn’t work at night, an unreliable engine, no gun, etc.
    Plus operational testing is still years away, and who knows what that will uncover. At least the SH works, which is why Australia and Canada have gone that way, at least for now.

Comments are closed.