Despite objections from US President Donald Trump, the US Navy is moving forward with plans to buy an advanced fleet of F-35 jets, an aircraft with a deeply troubled past.
The F-35 is said to be the most expensive weapons system in history.
As a part of the Navy’s Joint Strike Fighter program, the F-35Cs would replace the popular-but-aging fleet of Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornets, carrying with it a cost of roughly $400, a figure that drew criticism from Trump.
In December the president wrote on Twitter, “The F-35 program and cost is out of control,” and vowed to save billions of dollars in military purchases by the time he took office in January, though he didn’t provide details.
Following Trump’s tweet, Lockheed Martin, which manufacturers the F-35, saw their shares drop as much as 5 percent.
Lockheed’s F-35 Program Manager Jeff Babione said in a statement that he would “certainly welcome the opportunity to address any question that the president-elect would have about the program,” and that “Lockheed Martin and its industry partners understand the importance of affordability for the F-35 program.”
Politico quoted Navy Adm. Bill Moran at Tuesday’s Navy League Sea Air Space symposium saying, “The Navy still plans to procure two squadrons of Boeing’s F/A-18 and two squadrons of Lockheed Martin’s F-35C variant, which can take off and land on the deck of an aircraft carrier.”
The stealth fighter’s future seemed uncertain, as US Defense Secretary James Mattis ordered a comparison of the F-35 and the F/A-18 not long after Trump was inaugurated. Around the same time a document from Boeing, which manufacturers the F/A-18, was making the rounds suggesting that the Navy had a “significant capability gaps against emerging threats” with the F-35, according to the Navy Times, and that updating the F/A-18 was more efficient that buying new F-35s.
Bloomberg News reported that Trump’s tone on the aircraft shifted, as he later claimed to have slashed $600 million from the price tag of 90 F-35s, telling Congress that he “saved taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars by bringing down the price of the fantastic new F-35 jet fighter.”
Previous annual contracts ran about $102 million, but the last contract, signed in February, came to $94.6 million, it’s lowest cost yet. Lockheed Martin and the Pentagon are reportedly working to make costs even lower than that, with plans to drop the number at least 16 percent, to less than $80 million.
A statement emailed to Newsweek stated that in February Navy Rear Admiral DeWolfe Miller told Congress, “The Navy remains dedicated to a capabilities-focused approach as we evolve the carrier wing and carrier strike group of the future. The dynamic security environment requires the speed, endurance, flexibility and autonomous nature of the carrier strike group.”