Lockheed Martin talks F-35 with Trump transition team

Aware that Donald Trump voiced strong misgivings about the capabilities and cost of the F-35 Lightning II, Lockheed Martin already is meeting with the President-elect’s transition team about the stealth fighter and other programs, a top company official said.

“With the election now complete, we are working with President-elect Trump’s transition team.,” said Orlando Carvalho, Lockheed’s executive vice president for aeronautics. “We believe that in working with his transition team all the right information will get communicated and they’ll make the right decisions.”

Trump made it clear on a conservative radio talk show last year that he had doubts about the F-35’s performance and its cost. At $379 billion, the F-35, which is built at Lockheed’s plant in Fort Worth, is the country’s most costly weapons program.

After suffering through a rough start, the F-35 program has been showing improvement in recent years. The cost of the jet fighter has fallen to $112 million a copy and Lockheed hopes to get it down to $80 million to $85 million. But last week, the Pentagon said it will need $500 million more to finish the development phase.

“When they say that [the F-35] cannot perform as well as the planes we already have, what are [we] doing, and spending so much more money?” Trump said on the Hugh Hewitt radio show.

The host asked Trump his thoughts on the fifth-generation fighter and the fact that it’s over budget. At the time, Trump responded that he didn’t like what he had been hearing in security briefings.

“I do hear that it’s not very good,” he said. “I’m hearing that our existing planes are better. And one of the pilots came out of the plane, one of the test pilots, and said this isn’t as good as what we already have.”

Trump was reacting to a blog report that has since been discredited, in which a test pilot found that the “pricey new stealth jet can’t turn or climb fast enough to hit an enemy plane during a dogfight.”

Carvalho declined to comment on the incoming president’s knowledge about the F-35 in an interview Thursday after appearing in the Tandy Executive Speaker Series at Texas Christian University. During his presentation, he talked about the F-35’s technological marvels.

He also said Lockheed’s conversations with Trump’s transition team are like those they have with any new administration.

“As we’ve done in every previous election, you work with the new administration, you work with the transition team as they develop their plans,” Carvalho said. “We’re engaged in that and I think that will help us as we go forward.”

Besides dealing with a new administration, Lockheed also is involved in a dogfight with the Pentagon over the price of the F-35.

Last week the Pentagon said it was going to pay $6.1 billion for the next 57 copies of the F-35 without Lockheed’s acceptance. After more than a year of negotiations, the government said it was setting the price under a provision that allows it to do so before contract details are worked out.

One of the stumbling points was the profits, or “fees,” being charged by Lockheed. Hopefully, the two sides can reach an agreement before the next order, or lot, of airplanes is approved, he said.

“We were disappointed. Ideally you mutually negotiate contracts, you ultimately have bilateral agreement, when its awarded,” Carvalho said. “We’re working with program office ... to see how we can resolve the issues that remain open. .... It is important to get those issues resolved.”

This story includes material from the Star-Telegram archives.

Max B. Baker: 817-390-7714, @MaxbakerBB