The top executives of Lockheed Martin and Boeing met separately with President-elect Donald Trump on Wednesday to discuss concerns he has raised in tweets about the cost of two big federal projects: the F-35 fighter jet and a new Air Force One.
“We’re trying to get costs down, costs,” Trump told reporters in brief remarks after the officers left. “Primarily the F-35. That program is very, very expensive.”
After his meeting, Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg said he told Trump that the planemaker can build a new version of Air Force One for less than $4 billion.
“We’re going to get it done for less than that, and we’re committed to working together to make sure that happens,” Muilenburg said as he left the president-elect’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida.
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Trump also met with Lockheed CEO Marillyn Hewson and then with a group of high-ranking military officers. Last week, Trump said on Twitter that costs for the F-35 are “out of control.”
Hewson didn’t announce any new commitments to Trump, while signaling the company has been making progress in lowering costs.
“I appreciated the opportunity to discuss the importance of the F-35 program and the progress we’ve made in bringing the costs down,” she said in a statement after her meeting. “The F-35 is a critical program to our national security and I conveyed our continued commitment to delivering an affordable aircraft to our U.S. military and our allies.”
Last week, the President-elect took to Twitter to declare that the F-35 program is “out of control” and to pledge that he would trim billions of dollars on military contracts after he is inaugurated.
The Pentagon rebutted Trump’s criticism of the troubled F-35. Lt. Gen. Christopher Bogdan, who heads the office responsible for developing and acquiring the fighter jet, told reporters on Monday that the project has “basically been on schedule” and “on budget” since 2011.
Bogdan was among the military officials Trump met with Wednesday. Others in the group included Vice Admiral James Syring, who heads the Missile Defense Agency; Jimmy MacStravic, a top deputy to the Pentagon’s chief weapons buyer Frank Kendall; and Vice Admiral Tom Moore, head of the Naval Sea Systems Command.
“It’s a dance, you know. It’s a little bit of a dance,” Trump said. “We’re going to get the costs down and we’re going to do it beautifully.”
Trump’s Twitter outbursts may be an attempt to harmonize two competing objectives: higher spending on the military and “reform and discipline,” Richard Aboulafia, a defense analyst with Teal Group, said in a report this month. “Those goals are tough to reconcile.”
The Pentagon has already budgeted $3.2 billion for research and development, military construction and acquisition of two of the Air Force One planes through fiscal 2021, said Kevin Brancato, the lead government contracts analyst for Bloomberg Government. More money is anticipated in the two years after that.
Muilenburg said he gave Trump his “personal commitment on behalf of the Boeing Co.” The Chicago-based company will build the new 747 jets and outfit them to the Pentagon’s specifications, which include secure communications and anti-missile defenses. Boeing is just beginning work on the systems that will go into the new presidential aircraft.
“We’re looking to cut a tremendous amount of money off the price,” Trump told reporters, referring to Air Force One.
Defense companies stand to benefit from a resurgence in military spending promised by Trump and already underway in Western Europe and Asia as global tensions rise.