Mattis orders review of F-35, Air Force One programs

Mattis orders review of F-35, Air Force One programs
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Defense Secretary James Mattis has ordered the Pentagon to review the F-35 fighter jet and Air Force One replacement programs following President Trump’s criticism of the costs, the Pentagon announced Friday.

"Yesterday Secretary Mattis directed separate reviews of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program and the Presidential Aircraft Recapitalization program,” Pentagon spokesman Navy Capt. Jeff Davis said in a statement. “The purpose of these reviews is to inform programmatic and budgetary decisions, recognizing the critical importance of each of these acquisition programs.”

Since winning the presidency, Trump has tweeted several times about the costs of the F-35 and the new Air Force One.

In December, Trump tweeted that costs for Boeing’s new Air Force One are “out of control” and threatened to cancel the program.

Shortly after the Air Force One tweet, Trump tweeted that costs for Lockheed Martin’s F-35 fighter jet program were also “out of control.”

In tweets, Trump also pitted Boeing against rival Lockheed, saying that he asked Boeing to price out an F-18 that’s comparable to the F-35.

Since then, Trump has met twice with the CEOs of Boeing and Lockheed, both of whom touted progress on getting costs down after the meetings.

The F-35 review ordered by Mattis will include looking for ways to reduce costs and a comparison of F-35 to the F-18, according to a Pentagon memo.

The Air Force One review will look to identify specific areas where costs can be lowered, such as in autonomous operations, aircraft power generation, cooling systems and communications capabilities, according to a separate Pentagon memo.

Both reviews are to begin immediately, according to the memos.

In his statement, Davis said Mattis’s direction is a “prudent step” in preparing the budget and will inform his recommendations to Trump.

“This action is also consistent with the president's guidance to provide the strongest and most efficient military possible for our nation's defense, and it aligns with the secretary's priority to increase military readiness while gaining full value from every taxpayer dollar spent on defense,” he said.

The initial contract for Boeing to replace the current Air Force One jets was worth $25.8 million. The planes began flying in the early 1990s, and the new ones are scheduled to be ready in 2023.

The Air Force planned on spending as much as $1.65 billion on two new planes, while a Government Accountability Office report from last March put the cost at about $3.2 billion.

Officials have said the high cost comes from needing to meet security requirements, such as secure communications and antimissile defenses.

Meanwhile, the F-35 has been labeled the most expensive acquisition program in Pentagon history, at a total of $400 billion for 2,457 planes.

Supporters say the cost issues were in the research and development phase. Now that the planes are in production, they say, the price per unit is going down.