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If Trump had been in town for Israeli F-35 rollout, he might have liked it

The Lockheed Martin roll out the first F-35 “Adir” for Israel in a ceremony at Lockheed's west Fort Worth plant Wednesday.
The Lockheed Martin roll out the first F-35 “Adir” for Israel in a ceremony at Lockheed's west Fort Worth plant Wednesday. mfaulkner@star-telegram.com

Maybe if The Donald could have been in Fort Worth for the rollout of the first F-35 for Israel, he’d feel better about the fighter jet program.

Last year, the presumptive Republican presidential nomineee expressed doubts about the need for the F-35, its performance and pricetag during a radio interview, Air Force Times reported.

“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 reportedly said on the Hugh Hewitt radio show. The F-35, built by Lockheed Martin, is the country’s most costly weapons program at $379 billion.

Well, U.S. and Israeli officials were singing the F-35’s praises last week when Lockheed Martin showed off the first of 33 fighters to be turned over to the Israeli air force. The plane is being called “Adir,” which has been translated from Hebrew into “The Mighty One.”

Asked about Trump’s lack of enthusiasm for the F-35, Lt. Gen. Chris Bogdan, the program’s chief executive officer at the Pentagon, said some people have trouble at first comprehending how critical the stealth fighter is to the nation’s and world’s defenses.

Sometimes it is hard for folks who don’t understand the program from the inside to recognize how important it is,

Lt. Gen. Chris Bogdan, chief executive officer for the F-35 program

“Sometimes it is hard for folks who don’t understand the program from the inside to recognize how important it is,” Bogdan said. “What we find is when we finally get to sit down and talk to our partner nations or nations that don't understand what the program is, and how it has evolved, and how much better it is now then five or 10 years ago, that they look at it a little differently.”

“So we would give anyone, any new president, the opportunity to evaluate the program once they get into office based on the facts,” Bogdan said.

A request for comment from the Trump campaign was not immediately returned.

That same confidence had Bogdan predicting that the aircraft will do well in a fighter competition in Canada, where Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, elected to office last year, has fought to end the country’s involvement in the program.

Canada, one of the program’s partner nations that helped develop the F-35, is still paying its bills, Bogdan said. Canada has talked about having a new competition for the plane to replace the aging F-18 Hornet.

One thing going in Bogdan’s favor is that the program’s overall cost has dropped from $391.1 billion, according to a recent government report, and he previously predicted that the individual cost of each F-35 will decline to $80 million to $85 million from $112 million in 2013.

“I personally think that if they look to a second competition or a second comparison of those airplanes that this weapon system will fare very well,” Bogdan said. “The fact that now we have a lot of information and a lot maturity on the F-35 to know what it looks like and what if flies like to know what it costs can do nothing but create clarity for the Canadians.”

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

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