WASHINGTON — President-elect Donald Trump took another swipe at a Pentagon acquisition program on Monday morning, this time taking aim at the Pentagon’s most notorious program, the F-35 joint strike fighter.
At 6:26 a.m. EST, Trump tweeted: “The F-35 program and cost is out of control. Billions of dollars can and will be saved on military (and other) purchases after January 20th.”
The F-35 program and cost is out of control. Billions of dollars can and will be saved on military (and other) purchases after January 20th.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 12, 2016
The remarks had an immediate impact on the stock of F-35 manufacturer Lockheed Martin, whose stocks opened at $252.33 and dropped to a low of $245.70 slightly after noon. As of 1:10 PM eastern, stocks had rebounded to $250.50 and appeared trending upward.
Trump’s statements mark the third time in a week that the president elect has called out the defense industry for perceived corruption and exorbitant cost overruns.
Jeff Babione, the F-35 Program's general manager at Lockheed, said the company has invested "hundreds of millions of dollars to reduce the price of the airplane more than 70 percent."
"We project the price of the aircraft will be $85 million in the 2019-2020 timeframe. When we get to that price, the F-35 will be less expensive than any fourth-generation fighter in the world," the Lockheed executive said in an emailed statement. "The cost doesn’t just include the acquisition price. Lockheed Martin and its industry partners are also investing in reducing the sustainment costs of the aircraft recognizing that much of the cost of owning and operating an aircraft is after it’s delivered. We’re investing hundreds of millions of dollars to reduce the cost of sustaining the airplane over its 30-40 year lifespan."
Trump's tweet also came as Secretary of Defense Ash Carter visited Israel and was scheduled to take in the arrival of that nation's first F-35 model. A readout of Carter's meeting with Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman notes that "the delivery of the F-35 is a symbol of the United States' unshakable commitment to Israel's security, and will ensure its qualitative military edge in the region for decades."
Although defense contractors initially assumed a Trump presidency could rake in more money for the industrial base, his comments reveal a willingness to publicly shame defense companies and potentially indicate that Trump will be more involved with the acquisition process than previously thought.
Last Tuesday, he tweeted that the cost of the Air Force One replacement plane, based on Boeing’s 747-8 airliner, were “out of control” and to “cancel order!” He later doubled down on his statements, saying that he would personally negotiate with Boeing to get a better deal on the plane.
Days after that, he floated a ban that would keep former Pentagon acquisition officials from moving to the defense industry.
"I think anybody that gives out these big contracts should never ever, during their lifetime, be allowed to work for a defense company, for a company that makes that product,” he said during a rally in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. He added that he needed to do more analysis before committing to the proposed ban.
The F-35, the Pentagon’s most costly acquisition program, has been a target of Trump’s throughout his campaign. During an October interview, he was asked about the jet and referenced a report in which a pilot claimed the F-35 could not beat an older F-16 in a dogfight.
“When they say that this cannot perform as well as the planes we already have, what are [we] doing, and spending so much more money?” Trump said during an appearance on the Hugh Hewitt radio show.
Todd Harrison, a budget expert with the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) noted that the only way Trump could get costs down on the F-35 program at this point would be to cut the proposed procurement by about a half or a third, which would obviously surge the per-unit price.
Aaron Mehta in Washington contributed to this report.