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Trump tweets on F-35 again, says he asked Boeing for competitive bid

The F-35 fighter jet is being built at Lockheed Martin Aeronautics in Fort Worth.
The F-35 fighter jet is being built at Lockheed Martin Aeronautics in Fort Worth. Star-Telegram

Apparently, Lockheed Martin CEO Marillyn Hewson could not satisfy President-elect Donald Trump’s concerns about the F-35 program.

On Thursday afternoon, Trump tweeted again, this time announcing that he has asked Boeing to price out the F-18 Super Hornet as an alternative to Lockheed Martin’s fighter jet, citing the F-35’s “tremendous cost and cost overruns.”

The latest Twitter communique came a day after Trump met with the CEOs of both Boeing and Lockheed Martin to discuss the costs for a new Air Force One and the F-35. The next-generation fighter jet, which is being built in Fort Worth, has suffered through many delays and cost overruns in its prolonged development.

Last week, Trump declared that the F-35 program is “out of control,” and he pledged to trim billions of dollars on military contracts after he is inaugurated. But Pentagon leaders involved in the $379 billion program rebutted his claim, pointing out that the program has made progress in controlling costs and fixing technical problems in the past five years.

While Trump’s latest tweet appeared to upend years of defense spending history, the exact impact was not immediately clear. Congress controls the purse strings on Pentagon programs and procurement, which is a complicated and long process.

Beyond that, the Pentagon has scaled back purchases of the F-18, which lacks the stealth and other high-tech capabilities of the F-35 and would require extensive design changes to be comparable to the newer plane, according to Bloomberg News.

In June, Lockheed Martin Aeronautics rolled out its first F-35 bound for Israel where the sleek stealth fighter is so greatly anticipated it is known as “Adir,” Hebrew for mighty, powerful and great. (Star-Telegram/Max Faulkner)

Lockheed spokesman William Phelps said the company had no comment late Thursday afternoon. Boeing spokesman Todd Blecher said the company has “committed to working with the president-elect and his administration to provide the best capability, deliverability and affordability.”

Production of the F-35 is important to the Fort Worth economy. Lockheed’s massive west Fort Worth complex has been undergoing a $1.2 billion upgrade the last two years to prepare for increased production of the fighter jet. Lockheed plans to build more than 2,400 F-35s for the U.S. military and several foreign nations.

Lockheed employs 14,000 workers in Fort Worth, about 8,800 of them working on the F-35 program. Officials have said 1,000 additional workers may be needed as production ramps up. Lockheed said recently it has already built 184 combat-capable jets and planned to deliver about 50 this year. Production is expected to reach about 160 a year by 2019.

After meeting with Hewson on Wednesday, Trump described his meeting with CEOs as “a little bit of a dance” and said, “We’re going to get the costs down and we’re going to do it beautifully.”

Shares of Lockheed Martin (ticker: LMT) declined $4.90, or nearly 2 percent, to $247.90 a share, in after-hours trading following Trump’s tweet.

This report includes material from Bloomberg News.

Steve Kaskovich: 817-390-7773, @stevekasko

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