It is common knowledge within the defense industry that Lockheed Martin employees are not to complain about the Navy’s plans to purchase another batch of Boeing F/A-18 Hornets because of a deal worked out by the president to push for a multi-year block buy of Lockheed Martin F-35s.
While preparing to take office, Donald Trump was busy making deals with many of the nation’s top business leaders. A lot of his attention focused on expensive military contracts. He expressed his dissatisfaction with the $4 billion Air Force One replacement program and the $400 billion F-35 in a series of tweets. These were enough to get the leaders of Boeing and Lockheed Martin to visit the then-president-elect to plead their respective cases.
Soon enough, the president’s tune changed about both programs. He initially said he wanted to cancel the new Air Force One program, but after meeting with Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg, little more has been heard from the White House about the program. Boeing says it is working to simplify the requirements for the new planes, which, they say, is “going to lead to substantial cost reductions.”
Similarly, then President-Elect Trump complained about the spiraling costs and underwhelming performance of the F-35, and even suggested buying more Boeing F-18 Super Hornets instead. That quickly ended after he held discussions with Lockheed Martin CEO Marilyn Hewson and F-35 program executive officer Lt. Gen. Christopher Bogdan. Soon after that meeting, the President took credit for “saving” $600 million and now says the plane is “fantastic” even though there are no real savings and the plane is still riddled with problems.
According to a source within the defense industry, the tonal change is all part of a much larger deal worked out by President Trump with Lockheed Martin and Boeing.
The deal is essentially this:
- The Pentagon will purchase new model F/A-18 fighters from Boeing while the company agrees to work with the government to keep costs down on the Air Force One replacement.
- Lockheed Martin will not complain about the F/A-18 purchases because the president will work to secure the F-35 multi-year block buy.
It further appears that the president and Lockheed Martin are working to lock up political support on Capitol Hill. Lockheed Martin recently announced it is moving its F-16 production line to the former Donaldson Air Force Base in Greenville, South Carolina. At almost the same time, the Trump administration informed Congress it plans on approving a sale of 19 F-16s to Bahrain. Without that, F-16 production would likely stop altogether. Lockheed Martin has also announced it would build the T-50 trainer aircraft at the same facility should the company win that contract. Company leaders likely believe this could ensure the support of South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, a senior member of both the Appropriations and Senate Armed Services Committees.
These deals, if they go through, are bad for the American people, particularly the F-35 block buy aspect. The decision to purchase weapons should be based solely on the performance of the system, not on backroom political and business deals.
As the Project On Government Oversight has reported before, the F-35 program has not yet even started the critical combat testing phase of its development. Until that process is complete, we have no way of knowing if the jet will be capable of carrying out the missions for which it is intended. For that reason, at a minimum, further production increases of the F-35 should be halted until all the tests are complete.