Lockheed CEO: We are ‘close to a deal’ to bring F-35 cost down ‘significantly’

Lockheed Martin CEO Marillyn Hewson said Friday that the company is “close to a deal” that will bring the cost of the F-35 down “significantly” following a meeting with President-elect Trump in New York.

Hewson told reporters after the 45-minute meeting that she shares the incoming president’s view that troops need to get the best technology as possible for the lowest price. She said she also gave him some ideas for other ways to bring down the price of the joint strike fighter.

“I’m glad I had the opportunity to tell him that we are close to a deal that will bring the cost down significantly,” Hewson said. “It’s going to bring a lot of jobs to the United States. In fact, we’re going to increase our jobs in Fort Worth by 1,800 jobs.”

Navy Secretary Ray Mabus said this week that the promise to drive down costs is “the easiest promise anyone has ever made,” since the price per plane is already going down and will continue to go down more as the program moves into production because of lessons learned during building and a more efficient production line.

The Pentagon announced a unilateral $6.1 billion contract for the ninth batch of planes late last year after the government was unable to agree with Lockheed Martin on a deal for both lot nine and 10. The ninth lot of 57 low-rate initial production aircraft will be procured for 3.7 percent less than the previous lot, Defense News reported.

Joe DellaVedova, a spokesman for the F-35 Joint Program Office, said negotiations are ongoing for the tenth lot.

“The F-35 Joint Program Office remains focused on getting the best deal for the warfighters and taxpayers,” he said.

Friday marked the second meeting between Hewson and Trump. Following the first meeting in December, Hewson gave Trump her “personal commitment” to “aggressively” drive down costs.

Despite that promise, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., released a letter from the Pentagon this week announcing an additional seven-month delay that will cost taxpayers at least $500 million more.

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The F-35 joint strike fighter has been a key focus on Trump since the election. He has repeatedly tweeted about its “out-of-control” costs, causing Lockheed Martin stock prices to slide. Most recently, he promised “big things” for the aircraft at his press conference on Wednesday.

While it is behind schedule and over budget, service leaders have defended the program, arguing that it is now on the right track as production prepares to ramp up. They’ve also said that the capabilities on the jet, including its stealthy features, are needed by the military to replace aging aircraft.

Trump also announced on Twitter that he has asked Boeing to price out an F/A-18 Super Hornet that is “comparable” to the F-35, but Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James said comparing the two jets “is a little bit apples and oranges.”

Retired Gen. James Mattis, who Trump has chosen to lead the Pentagon, told lawmakers at his confirmation hearing Thursday that Trump understands how “critical” the program is to both the U.S. military and its international partners who are also buying the aircraft despite his criticism of the cost. Instead, the former four-star said Trump’s tweets simply show his commitment to use taxpayer dollars most effectively.

“He has in no way shown a lack of support for the program, he just wants the most bang for his buck,” Mattis said.

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