- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 22, 2016

President-elect Donald Trump said Thursday that he has asked Boeing to consider building a fighter jet to replace the F-35 at a lower cost, moving to pit two of the country’s biggest aerospace government contractors against each other.

“Based on the tremendous cost and cost overruns of the Lockheed Martin F-35, I have asked Boeing to price-out a comparable F-18 Super Hornet!” Mr. Trump said in a Twitter post late in the afternoon.

On Wednesday, Mr. Trump met with the chiefs of Boeing and Lockheed and pressured them to cut costs. For Boeing, he wants a cheaper Air Force One replacement. For Lockheed, he warned that it needed to limit the “out of control” overruns for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

Based on the reactions, the meeting with Boeing seemed to go better. The CEO promised to lower the cost of Air Force One to less than $4 billion.

“We’re going to get it done for less than that, and we’re committed to working together to make sure that happens,” CEO Dennis Muilenburg said. “And I was able to give the president-elect my personal commitment on behalf of the Boeing Co. This is a business that’s important to us. We work on Air Force One because it’s important to our country, and we’re going to make sure that he gets the best capability and that it’s done affordably.”

The Lockheed CEO refused to speak to reporters, and Mr. Trump said they were engaged in a “dance” over the costs.

His tweet Thursday suggests that he is ready to play hardball with Lockheed with an alternative to the F-35.

Boeing is the lead contractor on the F-18 Super Hornet, which has been the Navy’s go-to plane for years.

The F-35 was supposed to be the replacement plane for all of the services, but it has faced massive cost overruns, delayed schedules and production problems, including a fleetwide grounding for engine troubles in 2014.

The flyaway cost of an F-35 is listed at nearly $110 million, while the cost of a Super Hornet comes in at around $60 million, according to Aeroweb. The F-35’s backers predict the plane’s costs will drop as production increases.

• Stephen Dinan can be reached at sdinan@washingtontimes.com.

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