President-elect Donald Trump’s tweet about the F-35 strike fighter program seems to suggest cuts are coming.
“The F-35 program and cost is out of control. Billions of dollars can and will be saved on military (and other) purchases after January 20th,” Trump tweeted Monday at 8:26 a.m.
The message has drawn the ire of Connecticut’s representatives in Washington, including U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, who called a Hartford press conference to address the tweet.
Blumenthal, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, which uses a Pratt & Whitney engine, employs 2,000 men and women in Connecticut. He said the program is an important “job creator and sustainer in Connecticut,” but equally if not more important it’s “vital” to America’s national defense.
“It will provide air superiority and national security to America and to our allies,” Blumenthal said.
He said it will allow us to “beat the Russians or any of our adversaries in the air,” he added. “And to evade the missile defense systems that have been sold to Iran and Syria and other countries around the world. Only this aircraft can evade those ground-to-air missile systems that threaten current aircraft.”
The tweet comes the same day that two F-35s were delivered to Israel.
“The United States will buy about 2,500 F-35s,” Blumenthal said.
The fighter jets are being manufactured to replace older models of combat jets and the program has continued despite criticism over design and production problems. Delivery of the more than 2,400 jets will cost the United States government nearly $400 billion. Lockheed Martin had reportedly seen growth in its market value since the election but the value of Lockheed’s stock reportedly dropped more than $3 billion following Trump’s tweet, or about 4 percent.
According to Bloomberg and the Dallas Morning News, Lockheed’s F-35 program has about 1,300 suppliers in 45 states and supports 146,000 jobs.
“Reducing unnecessary costs is a welcome and important effort, but it cannot detract from our continued commitment to the Joint Strike Fighter, and the edge these jets provide our military that is so critical to our national defense and our alliances abroad,” Blumenthal said.
He said they’ve tried to cut the costs of this program and have succeeded.
United Technologies Corporation, the parent company of Pratt & Whitney, declined comment Monday.
U.S. Rep. John B. Larson, whose district includes Pratt & Whitney, is co-chair of the Congressional Joint Strike Fighter Caucus.
Larson released the following statement Monday afternoon:
“I’m looking forward to discussing the importance of the F-35 and the steps Lockheed Martin has already taken to drive down program costs with President-Elect Trump and his National Security team. As the nation’s premier fifth-generation fighter, the F-35 represents the very best of American ingenuity and capability. Given its pure superiority over all foreign aircraft, it will serve as a military deterrent for decades to come. Despite growing pains, the program has cut costs significantly to date and is on course to continue achieving savings. I’m confident in the future of the program.”
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has fought to save defense jobs at Lockheed Martin’s Sikorsky facility in Stratford and Pratt & Whitney’s facility in East Hartford.
Asked for his reaction to Trump’s tweet today, Malloy was at first less specific: “I’m concerned that the president-elect tweets,” he said.
As for the substance of the comment, Malloy said the F-35 is a “great plane.”
Malloy added, “I think people have to be held accountable for the products they produce and the costs they produce, and there’s a system in place to do that.”
Pressed about the cost overruns in the program, Malloy said, “For God’s sake, somebody take his phone away.”