Editorials

F-35 is a mighty force, but so are Trump’s tweets

THE EDITORIAL BOARD

Lockheed Martin Corp.’s F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is built in Fort Worth.
Lockheed Martin Corp.’s F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is built in Fort Worth. Via Bloomberg

President-elect Donald Trump appears to have gotten what he wanted from Lockheed Martin, a promise of renewed vigilance on driving down costs for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter built in Fort Worth.

Marillyn Hewson, Lockheed’s chairman and CEO, tweeted out a statement Friday saying, “I know that President-elect Trump wants the very best capability for our military at the lowest cost for taxpayers, and we’re ready to deliver!”

There’s no reason to doubt her sincerity, just as there’s every reason to believe that Trump can make life hard on any government contractor.

Lockheed has 14,000 employees in Fort Worth, about 8,800 of them on the F-35 program.

Earlier this month, Trump tweeted that the futuristic F-35’s $379 billion program costs were “out of control.” Pentagon experts came to Lockheed’s defense, but the company’s stock dropped 5 percent.

Then on Thursday, Trump tweeted that he had asked Boeing to design and price an upgrade to its F-18 Super Hornet as an alternative to the F-35.

These are really just shots across Lockheed’s bow, but they’re hitting close. The F-35 is a very expensive program.

Defense experts say there’s no real threat that an upgraded F-18 will hurt the F-35.

The F-35 already won that competition back in 2001. It’s been closely evaluated by the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps ever since, and it’s a mainstay of their planning.

The F-18 does not have the advanced technology or stealth of the F-35.

In short, there’s no close comparison.

And Lockheed and other big defense contractors are no dummies about building political support.

Although the F-35 is assembled in Fort Worth (and Lockheed plans to build more than 2,400 of them here for the U.S. military and foreign allies), its suppliers come from such places as El Segundo, Calif.; Orlando, Fla.; Nashua, N.H.; Baltimore, Md.; Nagoya, Japan and Warton in the United Kingdom.

Still, those strengths do not completely outmatch Trump’s ability to tweet from a bully pulpit.

That’s why Hewson and Lockheed are paying close attention.

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