'Potentially Disruptive': Rival CEO Listened In On Trump's F-35 Call


Gen. Christopher Bogdan told the House Armed Services tactical air and land forces subcommittee the two calls - one with just Trump on January 9 and a second on January 17 with Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg - promoted the study order from Secretary of Defense James Mattis a week after Trump's inauguration.

After a House Armed Services subcommittee hearing, Lt. Gen. Christopher Bogdan told reporters that Trump made it clear that Muilenburg was on the other end of a January 17 call, adding that the discussion centered around the Air Force One replacement, which Boeing is building, as well as a comparison of the Navy's F-35C variant vs. a new version of the F/A-18 Super Hornet that Boeing is proposing. Muilenburg reportedly "appeared caught off-guard but heard at least Trump's end of the call", people with knowledge of the situation told Bloomberg.

"We discussed Air Force One, we discussed fighter aircraft", Muilenburg told reporters after the meeting.

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It's important to understand in the discussions that we had were all predecisional, there were no decisions made during those conversations and it's my belief that President-elect Trump was attempting to get more information in its F-35 and its affordability and try and gain more information about the F-35's capability relative to the Super Hornet and to gain more information of the presidential aircraft replacement program.

Trump has publicly questioned the "out of control" costs of the F-35 program, and has even suggested using a Boeing fighter jet instead of the Lockheed jet.

Days after Trump's inauguration, Lockheed and the Department of Defense announced the next F-35 contract, which saved around $738 million on the program.

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Lockheed declined to comment. Thompson has tracked the F-35 program since Lockheed beat Boeing in winning the contract in October 2001. Northrop Grumman (NOC), a major F-35 subcontractor, rose 0.1%. The February contract, known as Lot 10, is for more jets and takes advantage of economies of scale to reduce the per-jet costs. Moreover, in an effort to drive the fighter's costs down, the F-35 has been marketed to allies around the world, with production and maintenance contracts spread from the U.K.to Australia. The review will also include a comparison of the F-35C to the F-18.

However, the procurement of F-35B aircraft, the Marine Corps version, will remain approximately the same.

Defense Secretary James Mattis in a memo last month translated Trump's tweet into action when he asked Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work to oversee a review that "compares F-35C and F/A-18E/F operational capabilities and assesses the extent that F/A-18E/F improvements (an advanced Super Hornet) can be made in order to provide a competitive, cost effective, fighter aircraft alternative". Purchases would grow to 80 aircraft in fiscal 2019, and there's a pending "block buy" of 450 aircraft after that.

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