President Trump said Monday that Lockheed Martin has cut $600 million from its next lot of 90 F-35 Joint Strike Fighter planes, capping weeks of private meetings with Lockheed Martin chief executive Marillyn Hewson and public criticisms of the program’s cost.
He specified that the cost-savings would apply to the company’s next group of 90 planes but offered few details on how the program or contract would change as a result.
“What’s happening with Lockheed, number one we’re cutting the price of their planes by a lot but they’re also expanding and that’s going to be a good thing. Ultimately they’re going to be better off,” Trump told reporters in the Oval Office.
The president’s public back-and-forth with Lockheed began in late December when he took to Twitter to criticize the program for cost overruns. At the time, he asked aerospace company Boeing to “price out a comparable F-18 Super Hornet,” suggesting he would substitute Boeing’s cheaper plane for Lockheed’s.
The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter costs about $100 million per plane, though the company says it already expects the cost of the plane to drop to $85 million as the company ramps up its volume of production. It was unclear from the president’s statements how much if any of the $600 million cost-savings were new, or whether they contain savings that the company had already planned.
Hewson said earlier this month while departing a private meeting with the president at Trump Tower that the company was “close to a deal” that would lower the cost of the program. She said the cost of the program would be “significantly lower” and also pledged to create 1,800 new jobs at a production center in Fort Worth.
“We appreciate President Trump’s comments this morning on the positive progress we’ve made on the F-35 program. We share his commitment to delivering this critical capability for our men and women in uniform at the lowest possible cost to taxpayers,” Lockheed Martin said in a statement.
The F-35 program, a $400 billion project to supply advanced jets for the U.S. government and allied countries, has been criticized by politicians on both sides of the aisle for cost overruns and delays. It is the single largest military program.
“There were great delays, about seven years of delays, tremendous cost overruns,” Trump told reporters. “We’ve ended all that, and we’ve got that program really, really now in good shape.”
The most recent delay to the program came this month when the Defense Department acknowledged a schedule delay that could increase the cost of the program by another $500 million. The delay drew a rebuke from Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), chairman of the Senate Committee on Armed Services.
In one of his first actions in office, Defense Secretary James Mattis on Friday ordered a review of the program.