The F-35 Lighting II, an aircraft that makes alternate headlines for being the most expensive weapons platform ever made and for suffering repeated technical setbacks, just got a little bit cheaper, and it would appear that the US government has Donald Trump to thank for that.
Lockheed Martin, the defense and aerospace company tasked with the design and production of the F-35, agreed this past week to sell a lot of 90 new advanced fighter jets to the US government for $8.5 billion, which marks a $700 million reduction in current cost projections.
When asked what prompted the reduced price tag, a Lockheed Martin representative credited President Donald Trump’s ability to “accelerate negotiations” that “drove down” the price of the historically pricey aircraft.
“The agreement represents $728 million in savings and a nearly 8 percent reduction in price over our last contract for the air vehicle delivered by Lockheed Martin and our industry partners,” Lockheed Martin said in a statement to CNN. “This is a good deal for the American taxpayer, our country, our company and our suppliers.”
The price tag on the F-35, currently estimated to ring in at over $400 billion once all is said and done, doesn’t seem quite as high when you take into account all that the American armed forces expects it to be able to accomplish. Different variants of the same aircraft are being produced for the Air Force, Navy, and Marines, each with the expectation that the F-35 will be able to replace their existing workhorse air platforms like the storied A-10 Warthog, the Navy F/A 18, the Marine Corps Harrier, and the current backbone of the Air Force, the F-16. Truly, the F-35 is expected to be a master of all trades.
Unfortunately, the program has been met with repeated setbacks. Production beginning before testing was complete was intended to reduce overall production costs, but have saddled Lockheed with a repeated need to bring previously built F-35s back for repairs as issues have been identified.
The savings President Trump secured through new negotiations with Lockheed Martin are said to be due in part to the speed of the president’s negotiations, but also as an expected product of increased manufacturing efficiency as production rate increases. These benefits would have come regardless of who was at the helm for the negotiation process, so it is difficult to determine exactly how much effect the new president had on the cost reduction, despite Lockheed’s claims.
Regardless of who or what was ultimately responsible for the reduced costs, a reduction in price of approximately $7 million per plane is a step in the right direction for the program that many feel has become an embarrassing example of government overspending and tactics being determined by bureaucracy.
“(W)e are substantially bringing the cost of each aircraft down and at the same time the F-35 program will continue to add thousands of additional jobs to the US economy as we increase production year over year,” Jeff Babione, Lockheed Martin F-35 vice president and general manager, said in a statement.
The new contract will include the production of 55 F-35s for the US military and 35 more for international partners and foreign sales. The new total estimate of $400 billion for the entirety of the program is twice the original financial projections, but at least for now, it would seem the F-35 may have stopped hemorrhaging money.
Image courtesy of the Royal Navy