“I do hear that it’s not very good,” he said, prompted by Hewitt. “I’m hearing that our existing planes are better. And one of the pilots came out of the plane, one of the test pilots, and said this isn’t as good as what we already have.”
Second, how close is Trump to the truth? Many observers have deemed the F-35 a boondoggle suffering from enormous cost overruns and serious underperformance. James Fallows wrote in his deep dive into the U.S. military’s weaknesses last year:
The condensed version of this plane’s tragedy is that a project meant to correct some of the Pentagon’s deepest problems in designing and paying for weapons has in fact worsened and come to exemplify them. An aircraft that was intended to be inexpensive, adaptable, and reliable has become the most expensive in history, and among the hardest to keep out of the shop.
The plane started out running roughly $135 million a piece, though that figure has slowly decreased as more are built. In total, Fallows noted, the project has cost about $1.5 trillion, around the same as the war in Iraq. “The F-35 is an ill-starred undertaking that would have been on the front pages as often as other botched federal projects, from the Obamacare rollout to the FEMA response after Hurricane Katrina, if, like those others, it either seemed to affect a broad class of people or could easily be shown on TV—or if so many politicians didn’t have a stake in protecting it,” he wrote.
Third, Trump’s apparent stance on the F-35—it’s hard to tell how thought-out or permanent any of these notions are—is one of his positions that cut across party lines. The plane’s critics range from lefties who see it as just another case of Pentagon bloat to conservative hawks who see it as good money spent on a bad project. Its defenders similarly run the gamut, from the military contractors who benefit from the plane to the members of Congress who want the plane constructed in their constituencies.
Some progressives will view Trump’s attack as a welcome broadside against the military-industrial complex, though they’re probably misguided if they expect to find much of an ally in Trump. He has made repealing the Defense sequester a priority, and wants to expand every branch of the armed forces by large amounts. Estimates of what all that would cost run around $100 billion—or about 1,000 times the cost of an F-35. While the F-35’s supply chain stretches around the country and around the globe, final assembly takes place in Fort Worth, in ruby-red Texas.
Last week, I noted that the heavy concentration of Army and Marine generals in Trump’s inner circle might be a cause of consternation for brass in the Air Force and Marines; the Air Force will be the biggest consumer of the F-35.
Conservatives may also blanch at Trump interfering—yet again, after his deal with Carrier and his jabs at Boeing—with free enterprise. Trump’s tweet sent Lockheed Martin stock into a nosedive (or a stall, or a tailspin, or… well, pick your own aviation cliche), dropping nearly 3 percent before U.S. markets opened. Something similar happened to Boeing last week, but the stock basically recovered after the initial shock. (Lockheed had been trading high before; just Sunday, Motley Fool was remarking on what a great boon the F-35 had been for the contractor.)