The F-35 stealth fighter was the only major weapons program Trump questioned

The F-35 stealth fighter built by Lockheed Martin was the only major weapons program Trump questioned during the campaign, even as he espoused the need for a larger Army and more warships. In an October 2015 interview with radio host Hugh Hewitt, Trump criticized the jet’s costs and said he heard “that it’s not very good. I’m hearing that our existing planes are better.”

Donald Trump’s doubts about the $379 billion F-35 fighter jet program could cast a pall over the defense industry’s early euphoria that a major boost in spending is coming after the next administration takes office.

Soon after taking office in January, Trump will be faced with some key decisions about the F-35 and other weapons systems. Under current plans, the U.S. is scheduled to boost purchases of the jet in the fiscal 2018 budget year to 70 from 63 this year, and then to 80 in fiscal 2019.

There’s also a pending “block buy” of 450 aircraft in the coming years as the Pentagon seeks a total fleet of 2,443, including 1,763 for the Air Force. Lockheed’s Fort Worth plant, where the planes are being built, is undergoing a $1.2 billion renovation and expansion to prepare to increased production.

Any potential rampup of F-35 purchases could quickly compete for funds with Trump’s stated vision for the Army and Navy. He wants to reverse the Army’s planned reduction to 450,000 troops by the end of fiscal 2018 from 475,000 today, eventually boosting it to 540,000. That alone would cost as much as $30 billion over current plans, according to defense analysts.

Likewise, the Navy in January is scheduled to present its new force structure assessment, likely calling for increasing total ship numbers beyond the currently planned 308 from 272 today. Trump has said he’d like to see as many as 350 ships in the Navy. That would cost an average $4 billion extra annually over the currently forecast about $16.5 billion a year, according to an analysis by the non-partisan Congressional Research Service.

SOURCE- Star Telegram