Donald Trump Wants to Cancel the Order for Boeing's Air Force One; Could the F-35 Be Next?

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A Lockheed Martin official holds a model of the F-35 during a presentation in April. In November, Defense Department official J. Michael Gilmore wrote that the agency was being “misleading” about the F-35 program's progress. Baz Ratner/REUTERS

Since his victory in November, President-elect Donald Trump has been publicly shaming companies on Twitter, seemingly trying to make policy—or at least PR— from behind his keyboard. The latest: On Tuesday he condemned plans for Boeing's new Air Force One, saying the "costs are out of control" and tweeting, "Cancel order!"

Yet his Boeing missive wasn't the first time Trump has criticized a government aircraft contract. Last October, in an interview with Hugh Hewitt, the billionaire real estate mogul criticized the F-35 fighter jet program, the most expensive in the country's history. And given the recent concerns expressed by a Department of Defense official about how the agency could be "misleading" lawmakers about the F-35's progress, some have wondered whether the jet could be Trump's next target.

The initiative to build the F-35, also known as the Joint Strike Fighter program, began in 2001, when the U.S. government chose Maryland-based security and aerospace company Lockheed Martin to produce the aircraft. In 2006, the first F-35 took flight, and deliveries began in 2011. Eight foreign countries participate in the program, and three more countries have made purchases. There are now at least 180 jets flying, according to the manufacturer. The Defense Department has plans to buy around 400 of the jets over the next five years, at a cost of about $40 billion, Reuters reported in February.

Related: Donald Trump takes to Twitter, calls for canceling Boeing's deal for Air Force One

But the program has faced serious delays and technical problems, and government-spending watchdogs and lawmakers have condemned its price tag. Defense industry insiders have even called it "the plane that ate the Pentagon." Senator John McCain, chairman of the Senate Committee on Armed Services, has said the program costs are double their original estimate, and during a committee meeting in April, he called the program "a scandal and a tragedy with respect to cost, schedule and performance."

In his interview with Hewitt, Trump was more measured. "I do hear that it's not very good," he said of the F-35. "They're saying it doesn't perform as well as our existing equipment, which is much less expensive. So when I hear that, immediately I say we have to do something, because, you know, they're spending billions. This is a plane. There's never been anything like it in terms of cost."

A spokesperson for Trump's presidential transition team did not respond to a request for comment about the F-35 in time for publication.

In November, a Defense Department official accused the agency of being "misleading" in comments it was preparing about the progress of the F-35, according to details from an internal memo that Bloomberg News published on Wednesday. The agency was drafting a response to a November 3 letter by McCain, in which he expressed disappointment about the program's delays and asked for updated information. J. Michael Gilmore, director of operational test and evaluation for the Defense Department, said the agency's answers were deceitful.

"If not changed, the existing responses would at best be considered misleading and at worst, prevarications," Gilmore wrote in the November 28 memo. Some of the drafted responses "ignore acknowledged facts, are ambiguous and misleading and if signed and sent as-is" could "generate substantial issues with the Congress," he wrote.

In an email to Newsweek, a Defense Department spokesman said that the agency regularly consults with Gilmore's office when preparing reports and responses and that the exchange was routine.

A spokesman for the F-35 program sent Newsweek statements by Rear Admiral Roy Kelley and Brigadier General Scott Pleus, who are overseeing integration of the F-35 jets with the Navy and Air Force, respectively. The statements express support for the program.

"The United States Navy is encouraged by the positive actions taken by the program office," Kelley said. "We are confident that the program will address discrepancies found and aggressively pursue the fixes necessary." He went on to address specific issues and plans to fix them.

"The F-35A is proving itself every day in the hands of pilots and maintainers throughout the Air Force," Pleus said. "We have amassed over 70,000 flight hours, and this jet just keeps improving the more we gain experience employing its 5th Generation capabilities." He added, "While we are currently identifying and prioritizing deficiencies which exist and must be fixed in Block 3F, we are confident this aircraft will meet our combat requirements."

Whether or not Trump agrees remains to be seen. The president-elect has not publicly commented on the F-35 program since his interview with Hewitt, nor has his defense secretary nominee, retired Marine Corps General James Mattis.

Despite Trump's 2015 comments, he has vowed to scale up the military, with 350 new ships and 1,200 new fighter aircraft. Stocks in defense contractors reportedly rose after the election, including Lockheed Martin.

And the fighter jet program seems to have made some progress. In August, the Air Force said its initial squadron was "combat ready," although skeptics called the announcement "a public relations stunt."

On December 12, two F-35 planes are expected to arrive in Israel, the first country to purchase the aircraft through the U.S. military. The Israeli Air Force says it will receive 48 more jets over the next few years.

Unless, of course, it cancels the order.

Read more from Newsweek.com:

- More bad news for the F-35, the plane that ate the Pentagon
- The Pentagon will buy 404 Lockheed Martin F-35 jets over the next five years
- Republicans say $583 Billion for Pentagon isn't enough

Donald Trump Wants to Cancel the Order for Boeing's Air Force One; Could the F-35 Be Next? | U.S.