It was an up-and-down week for Fort Worth, the F-35 Lightning II and Lockheed Martin Aeronautics.
First, there was the good news that the Air Force picked Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base Fort Worth to get a squadron of F-35 stealth fighters sometime in 2020. The base was picked partially because the sprawling Lockheed Martin plant where the jet is built sits right next door.
Then Lockheed Martin CEO Marillyn Hewson had what she called a “great meeting” with President-elect Donald Trump about getting the costs of the F-35 down while also boosting employment at the Fort Worth plant by 1,800 workers. Most recently, the company had said it was going to add about 1,000 folks.
In another milestone, Lockheed delivered its 200th operational aircraft, this one built for the Japanese government. The F-35 was flown to Luke Air Force Base in Arizona, where the training by the Air Force and international customers is done.
But on the downside there was a letter to Hewson from Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, a frequent critic of the program, over the latest production delay, which could boost the cost of the program by $500 million. He wrote that he had a hard time reconciling this with her promises to “drive down” F-35 costs.
“This is yet another troubling sign for a program that has already nearly doubled in cost, taken nearly two decades to field, and has long been the poster child for acquisition malpractice,” McCain said in a statement.
While Hewson continues to make nice with Trump over the F-35, McCain’s statement and letter clearly show that the stealth fighter still has to fly through some rough skies, especially since it is one of the few things where McCain and the president-elect are of the same mind.
“If Lockheed Martin believes it is possible to aggressively drive down the cost of the F-35, it is time for the company to reveal its plans to do so to the Congress and to American taxpayers,” McCain said.