On December 12, 2016, President-elect Donald J. Trump tweeted, “The F-35 program and cost is out of control. Billions of dollars can and will be saved on military (and other) purchases after January 20th.” Those words are true today.
Recent news that the contractor supplying F-35s to the Pentagon seems to be slowing the Air Force’s push for next generation technology affirms Trump’s sentiments from 2016. It is no coincidence that slow walking changes to the F-35 program benefits the contractor’s bottom line.
A public dispute between the F-35 manufacturer Lockheed Martin and engine producer Pratt & Whitney has provided more evidence that the F-35 program, and cost are out of control. It was reported that Lockheed publicly pushed the Adaptive Engine Transition Program (AETP) as an alternative engine for the F-35. The problem with this push is that it runs contrary to an existing Pentagon push to upgrade existing engines, not replace them with costly new ones. The Pentagon’s goal with the program is transition to a next generation fighter jet. This idea to transition to a new engine slows, if not halts, the Pentagon effort.
A representative of the engine manufacturer argued that the F-35 manufacturer was not acting in good faith. Breaking Defense reported on June 22, 2023, that Jeff Shockey, senior vice president of global government relations for RTX, Pratt’s parent company argued “Lockheed proposing AETP for the F-35 undermines the customer, the taxpayer and the warfighter.” Any action that increases cost on the taxpayer while slow walking new technology to our fighter pilots is bad policy.
This effort runs afoul of an America First defense posture. President Trump promoted a strong military as a deterrent to our adversaries even thinking about attacking America and our allies. America First defense policy works. Contractors should not take actions to benefit their bottom line by slow walk new technology. Our national defense is weakened when the Pentagon is forced to waste money on expensive programs that don’t produce top notch results.
The F-35 program is notorious for cost overruns, delays and an aircraft with severe limitations. The New York Times reported on August 21, 2019, that “the F-35 initiative is the Defense Department’s most expensive weapons program ever, expected to cost taxpayers more than $1 trillion over its 60-year lifespan.” Blomberg reported on December 9, 2022, the project to upgrade the F-35 cockpit computer “have risen another $236 million, nearly doubling the size of the original $712 million contract, US officials said.” The cockpit overruns are similar to overruns in other aspects of this program. Recent reports tag the long range cost of this program at a staggering $1.7 trillion.
President Trump was spot on to say this program was out of control. With the American people increasingly concerned about the federal debt that is at $32 trillion and rising fast, the former President should continue his fight against the D.C. Swamp and campaign for the F-35 program to be the subject of intense study to find cuts and savings.