Citing F-35 Cost, Trump Asks Boeing for F-18 Quote

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By Lara Seligman

A day after meeting with the heads of Lockheed Martin and Boeing, President-elect Donald Trump has asked Boeing to price out the cost of an F/A-18 Super Hornet to potentially compete with the F-35.

Trump has dragged Lockheed’s F-35 into the spotlight in recent weeks, slamming the program for “out of control” costs. Now, he is calling in the big guns, asking Boeing to give him a price estimate for what it would take to build a “comparable” Super Hornet.

“Based on the tremendous cost and cost overruns of the Lockheed Martin F-35, I have asked Boeing to price-out a comparable F-18 Super Hornet!” he tweeted late Dec. 22.

"We have committed to working with the president elect and his administration to provide the best capability, deliverability and affordability across all Boeing products and services to meet our national security needs," Boeing spokesman Todd Blecher told Aviation Week after the tweet. 

It is unclear what exactly Trump intends to do next. A president can’t single-handedly cancel one military aircraft and replace it with another, as the tweet indicates Trump is considering. So, does he want a competition between the multi-service F-35 and Boeing’s Super Hornet, the backbone of the U.S. Navy’s carrier air wing? 

It's worthwhile to note that comparing the F-35 to a Super Hornet is comparing apples to oranges. The F-35 is a fifth-generation stealth aircraft that is almost invisible to enemy radar, equipped with sophisticated electronics and sensor suites. The venerable F/A-18 E/F, while also an advanced fighter, is not a stealth aircraft. The Super Hornet was designed in the 1990s, and the Navy will begin operating the F-35C carrier variant starting in 2018.

Boeing did offer an upgrade package for the Super Hornet in 2013 that included conformal fuel tanks and a new enclosed weapons pod, both part of an effort to reduce the aircraft’s radar cross section. However, this proposal did not gain traction with the Navy or other customers. The fact remains that the F/A-18 was not designed from the ground up as a stealth aircraft, as was the F-35.  

"It is not clear to us that Boeing could do significantly better than that with an aircraft that would match the F-35, let alone exceed it," writes Byron Callan, analyst with Capital Alpha Partners, Dec. 23. 

Notably, the U.S. Air Force does not even currently operate the Super Hornet, and there would be costs to integrate that aircraft into its inventory. The Navy and Marine Corps do operate F/A/-18s, but the type can not be used on the Marines' amphibious ships. By contrast, the F-35 in its three variants is designed to be used by all three services. 

Callan cautions investors not to read too much into Trump's latest tweet. 

"Maybe it’s not good to try and be rational here, but we doubt that Trump’s Dec. 22 tweet that he would direct Boeing to “price out a comparable F-18 (sic)” to the F-35 will ultimately disrupt the vector of either program," Callan writes. 

Still, Trump is clearly trying to send a message to the Pentagon and defense industry. The tweet comes a day after the president-elect met with top Pentagon brass, including the head of the F-35 Joint Program Office (JPO) Lt. Gen. Christopher Bogdan. Bogdan presumably defended the program during the meeting, telling reporters earlier in the week that, if given a chance to discuss the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) with the Trump team, he would explain that the program has turned itself around since a critical cost breach in 2010.

“Given the opportunity, I would like to try to explain to the new administration that this is a vastly different program from 2011 on,” Bogdan said Dec. 19 at the JPO offices in Arlington. “I will just lay the facts out on the table and then let them make their own judgements, because I don’t think the program cost-wise is out of control, nor do I think it’s out of control schedule-wise.”

Bogdan also noted that unit costs have come down year after year for the JSF, with the price of a single U.S. Air Force F-35A variant dropping by 5.5%, to $102.1 million, in the latest contract.

Apparently, Trump is not buying Bogdan’s argument. Even before the Dec. 22 tweet, Trump vowed Dec. 21 after meeting with Lockheed CEO Marilyn Hewson to get prices down.

“It’s a dance, it’s a little bit of a dance,” he said, adding that negotiations are just beginning. “But we’re going to get the costs down and we’re going to get it done beautifully.”

Spokesmen from Lockheed and engine-maker Pratt & Whitney declined to comment on Trump’s latest tweet. 

Editor's note: This story was updated to provide additional context.

Discuss this Blog Entry 46

on Dec 22, 2016

President Elect Trump has demomstrated what Presidential is supposed to be since Nov 8. Obama slinking off to Hawaii continues to pose as president while
being a dilettante..

on Dec 22, 2016

I don't know whether to laugh at you or cry. God help the country.

on Dec 23, 2016

No - Trump has demonstrated for the thousandth time why he is the ultimate disaster as a President elect and a complete blithering idiot.

Remember - this is the guy who ran as the ultimate successful tycoon, when instead he ran six of his companies into the dirt with bankruptcy, primarily because he let costs get wildly out of control ... and Trump became such a credit risk that American and European banks finally refused to lend him any more money. He's been using Russian oligarchs who are buds with Vladimir Putin to finance his projects since then.

Asking for a quote on the world's most capable warfighting system ever devised is literally the most ignorant, stupid thing any American president has ever done.

on Dec 27, 2016

i totally agree with you DTRT, the fact is America don't have any choice but to bear him for the whole 4yrs at least. they have accept his decisions whatever they are and how stupid they and they have to listen whatever he says.

DOES AMERICANS HAVE ANY OTHER CHOICE RIGHT NOW......

GOD SAVE AMERICAN INDUSTRY ESPECIALLY DEFENSE......

on Dec 23, 2016

I'm picturing the heads of Boeing and LM listening to Trump and trying not to roll their eyes or laugh.

on Jan 3, 2017

@Changey: Satire, right? Has to be, because no one is that dumb to believe that.

on Dec 22, 2016

Bull chosen to run china shop, owner delighted with breakage.

on Dec 22, 2016

The Silent Hornet can be delivered for $80 million a copy. But is this what Trump wants, compared to the F-35A which costs $120 million a copy including the engine?

on Dec 23, 2016

Given that the Serbs downed an F-117A Night Hawk by using cell phone towers to illuminate it and given that all advanced Russian fighters use IRST (infra red tracking) to target STEALTH aircraft within visual range, what is the point of STEALTH anymore anyway?

on Dec 23, 2016

So now a combat aircraft has go its entire life with a single combat loss to be deemed a success? It does not matter how successful a weapon system is at hitting enemy targets, lose one aircraft and you are now deemed a failure. Wow talk about mowing the goal posts!

on Dec 27, 2016

Tucker, i think you misunderstood chopstyx words, he doesn't mean about loss of single aircraft, i believe he is talking about stealth technology.
stealth technology is invisible to radar what about Cell Tower Infra Red Visual Identification technology like Chopstyx says. if Serbs have really downed F-117 night hawk using this technology then i believe modern US stealth war planes are useless.

as you know each every aircraft have its unique heat signature, if we can detect that heat signature and program it in missile system then i believe its very easy to down any US stealth aircraft except F-22( due to its speed and maneuverability).

i believe Serbia is not as rich as USA(both financially and technologically) , then how they were able to device such a technology and down invincible F-117. really hard to believe.

on Dec 22, 2016

“Based on the tremendous cost and cost overruns of the Lockheed Martin F-35, I have asked Boeing to price-out a comparable F-18 Super Hornet!” Well that will be interesting. They will have to offer up a version that is equally stealthy, has the same range on internal fuel only, and a similar electronics sweet. And will they come up with a STOVL version for the Marines? Don't get me wrong. I am most certainly not a fan of the F-35. In truth the F-35 is a mistake created by a SecDef and Congress bent on thinking that one platform could solve all of our fighter requirements. Funny that while while it is okay for the F-35 to replace the A-10 and AV-8B, it is not an okay replacement for the F-22, but I digress. I just think Trump's comment is his typical, uninformed rhetoric.

on Dec 22, 2016

Yeah, I bet Trump thinks "suite" is spelled "sweet" too.

on Dec 22, 2016

This is a good thing. The military needs to start creating "real" competition in programs otherwise prices will always be much higher than initial projections. LM has -0- competition in the fighter arena because we hand them monopolies when we award single source contracts.

on Dec 22, 2016

I wonder if a quote for a fleet of 737 Special Mission Aircraft to replace the aging, and rapidly getting less supportable USAF Special Mission 707(s), that will need replacing in the future, was approached. Of course that would be a "Business Decision" based upon existing airframes in service that is rapidly growing in population, not a competition. Makes long term logistical sense for keeping life-cycle support costs down. This President Elect could get away with that. The current couldn't.

on Dec 22, 2016

"...Boeing’s Super Hornet, the backbone of the U.S. Navy’s carrier air wing, and actually slated to be replaced with the F-35C carrier variant starting in 2018?"

Sorry, Lara, you should have fact-checked this. The F-35 is replacing the original Hornet, not the Super Hornet. And people think only Wikipedia has errors!

on Dec 23, 2016

It's not correct to say that the F-35 is replacing this aircraft or that ... whether it be Hornets, Super Hornets, A-10s, F-16s. etc. That is like saying the USS Enterprise replaced the USS Arizona in World War Two. The F-35 brings entirely new capabilities together in a multi-role aircraft that will do far more than "replace" existing airframes.

It is more correct to say that the F-35 is superseding all prior fighter/attack aircraft with brand new capabilities.

on Dec 24, 2016

Supersede: to take the place or position of (ie replace).
Thanks for playing.

on Dec 27, 2016

current fighter aircrafts are capable of fighting day/night, their main advantage is speed and agility, but for F-35s main and only advantage is stealth. stealth is useful only for night operations as you need radar to detect and identify it. during day time once visible it is easy for enemy fighters to stay in visual contact and kill it just with guns. remember in close range F-35s radar cannot lock-on to launch missiles. each and every fighter aircraft has to depend on guns for close air combat.

as F-35 has no speed advantage even enemy MIG-21 can kill it.

as far as STOVL is concerned Harriers can do much better than F-35s besides they don't need sophisticated computers to flight it. its a pilots planes. today's F-35 pilots are videogamers in real world, the only difference is they have only one life, if they lose they will die that's all.

on Dec 23, 2016

When it comes to Trump, it is all about
The art of a deal.
Any of you read his book?

on Dec 23, 2016

POTUS elected shake the tree in order to wake the birds on there, to wake them up and to get a bit of sense out off them!

on Dec 23, 2016

These tweets about both the Air force One replacement and the F-35 show that Trump's thinking is not to increase the defense budget but instead to do more with the budget they already have.

This is not what all the defense experts were telling us only a few weeks ago, so convinced that under trump Defense was going get a massive budget increase.

Being realistic the only way Boeing could supply a jet which meets the requirements the F-35 was built to meet would be with its own clean sheet design. No modified Hornet is going to be able to do it. Obviously Boeing would love to get a contract to supply a brand new jet, even if was only for the Navy.

I have a suspicion we are not really talking about the F-35, but really we are talking about the F/A-XX project. It may well be that during the next four years that project either lives, which means only a small number of F-35C get purchased or it dies with the navy replacing the Super Hornets with additional F-35C's.

Time to stock up on popcorn, this negotiation is going to take a while.

on Dec 23, 2016

I think we should get a quote from any halfway intelligent leader on a replacement for Donald Trump. The cost will be negligible compared to the cost of this dolt running our country.

on Dec 23, 2016

A "comparable Super Hornet" does not and will never exist. The capabilities of the F-35 cannot be replicated at any cost savings at all. Boeing had their shot and participated in an open competition in 2001 and came up short - which of course Trump is totally ignorant about, and even if he knows he's too stupid to realize the meaning. But it is not that Boeing is incapable of developing a similar aircraft. But the F-35 exists and is fully operational (A and B models, C model within a year), and the fifteen years and $14B spent (when all is said and done) would be a total waste if we contracted with any other manufacturer to replicate what already exists, and is NOT too expensive.

God save America - I do not have high confidence that our republic can survive the tweeting ignoramus in the White House for four years.

on Dec 23, 2016

Lara S got it wrong. the Super Hornet wont be replaced by the C version yet.

on Dec 24, 2016

You are correct in that the current plan is that the classic Hornet is being replaced by the F-35C, and the Super Hornet's replacement is the proposed Sixth generation F/A-XX.

If F/A-XX falls over, then a lot of people expect F-35C replace the Super Hornet as well simply because if they fail to get a project started by 2020, then getting F/A-XX to the fleet by the mid 2030's becomes seriously difficult. Honestly the project time lines are already tight, even if you were to start today. That target of 2028 is already seems to be in serious danger of slipping to 2038 and beyond.

on Dec 23, 2016

The F-35 has certainly turned out to be expensive.
How much of the problem is related to the government asking for 3 versions of the aircraft with a lot of commonality between the versions
(which have a lot of the conflicting requirements)
How much of the problem is/was related to the governments own handling/mishandling of the project?

on Dec 24, 2016

We can talk about the history and play the if only game all day, but it does not change the situation as it stands today.

Remember the three services have each developed their own version, each designed to meet there individual requirements. There is no one aircraft which must meet the requirements off all three.

What is now clear is that the original plan to design on airframe which by adding different models would meet these different sets of requirements was unrealistic. This has instead resulted in three very unique aircraft that look alike but share common systems. Had this been the plan from day one would meant we would have planned to spend more and take longer, which is the situation we find our selves in today.

The question you need to ask yourself is this, if the original plan was take as long as we have taken, spent as much money as we have spent, with proposed procurement plan that looks like it does today, meaning that we would all be saying this project is on time and on budget would is change peoples perception of the aircraft?

I suspect the answer to that question is no. Every aircraft developed since the fifties has been considered to take to long and cost too much. Once they get into service and prove their value, opinions change.

Most people have never understood the process by which aircraft are built, this is unlikely to change any time soon.

on Dec 23, 2016

Boeing has a great alternative to the f35, which is also stealthy, supersonic and STOVL (actually based on the most successful STOVL fighter in history, the Harrier): the X-32. It would also be better than the f35, because China has stolen most of the f35 CAD and manufacturing secrets. The best way for Boeing to beat this expensive f35 albatross is for Boeing to offer 1200 F-18 (G???), and 1200 F-32s to counterbid the 2400 f35s.

on Dec 24, 2016

Look at the Six gen concepts which are starting to surface, none look anything like the X-32. Ever wondered why?

If they want to replace the F-35 they need to convince everybody to wait for a aircraft which needs to be developed first.

A hard sell given the average age of most US combat aircraft.

on Dec 24, 2016

Paint the production version picture of the X-32 gunmetal grey, and it will look almost like the f35.

But don't deceive yourself with the pics of the f35 Chinese knock-off, it isn't really homegrown there...

Working for Lockheed must be a nightmare.

on Dec 24, 2016

Yeah, because painting the thing grey actually changes the planform, shape, layout, design, features of the aircraft.
Want a Ferrari? No problem, paint a Chevy Nova grey and voila!

on Dec 26, 2016

Wrong simile Tommy boy.

When the Nova looked like the Falcon, we all knew what was going on.

AFP reported today, 26Dec16: "China's FC-31 bears a close resemblance to the F-35."

on Dec 23, 2016

Ms. Seligman, in your article you stated that, "The F-35 is a fifth-generation stealth aircraft that is almost invisible to enemy radar." This statement is simply not true. The aircraft is in fact only, "nearly invisible to enemy radar" from certain angles and against certain radar bandwidths. First, the F-35's radar cross-section only qualifies as low observable (LO) from the front, not from the sides, rear, top, or bottom. In other words it is not an all-aspect stealth aircraft. Second, the F-35's shaping and RAM are designed to primarily counter X and S-band radars, not UHF and VHF-band radars like the Nebo SVU. If you're going to write a story about a comparison between two aircraft, you can't simply paraphrase dubious claims made by Lockheed Martin (or any other defense contractor) and expect to be taken seriously.

RSF (not verified)
on Dec 25, 2016

The Advanced Super Hornet with CFT's, enclosed weapons pod, and other RCS reduction features was quoted by Boeing as having a 50% reduction in frontal RCS over the standard F/A-18 E/F. If the USN could upgrade their Superbugs to this standard it would provide many new options to US Naval air power.

However it's still NOT a stealth fighter and while I'm generally disgusted with the JSF Program, the F/A-18 even with all the possible upgrades can't replace the F-35.

I admire Trump for putting pressure on Lockmart for the massive cost overruns with F-35 but I'm not seeing anything that indicates he truly understands the emerging A2A threats American military aviators will be facing soon.

Two more early production J-20's just joined the test fleet and at this pace China will have it's first squadron of stealth fighters operating in late 2017.

on Dec 24, 2016

I'm curious that nobody has mentioned mix of F/22/F-35/F-18. While stealth is great, you don't need every singe aircraft is stealth. Once airspace is controlled by initial batch of stealth ones, many or even majority of missions can be carried with non-stealth super-sonic.

By doing 40% F-35 and 60% of F-18, you can achieve same goal and with a lot more cost-effectiveness/reliability. F-35 compromised a lot to gain stealth and be common for 3 services, it's certainly not the best aircraft for a lot of use cases. Judged by recent US wars in Afganistan and Iraq, missions are by far dominated by non-stealth beyond initial weeks in Iraq war.

on Dec 24, 2016

Are you selling Super Hornets to the Air Force? Or are going spend money to upgrade both combat systems of both the F-16 and the F-18?

It would have been nice if the Air Force and Navy had developed a common set of subsystems for use in all their fourth generation fighters but they didn't. it would have made developing upgraded versions of these aircraft a lot cheaper. One of the F-35's big advantages is the fact that you have fund a separate program for each jet want add software updates to the fourth gen fleet, not one.

Are you prepared to pay twice the price for that F-35 now that you went and slashed to sales by 60%?

RSF (not verified)
on Dec 25, 2016

Tucker:

There are significant differences in requirements and capabilities between USAF and USN fighters with the primary driver being the harsh environment that naval aircraft are required to operate in at sea.

The F-35 has suffered from much higher costs than anticipated for the entire 16 years of the JSF program and slashing funds should have happened a long time ago.

LM should eat all development costs going forward and further purchases of semi-functional aircraft should cease until they can produce a reliable fully functional go to war F-35 verified by the DOT&E.

on Dec 25, 2016

This isn't about a plane. Or about price. It's about an ego.

on Dec 25, 2016

Surely the US is rich enough to have at least two concurrent candidates in production for its primary fighters. Recollect that - an astonishing time ago now - that Lockheed and Boeing produced two viable aircraft, the F-35 and the F-36 (I think that was the numeral) for a competitive fly-off. At that time the price was 'reasonable' - strangely it was only when Lockheed won and became the sole producer that the price went rocketing up.

on Dec 26, 2016

'When it comes to Trump, it is all about
The art of a deal.
Any of you read his book?"
- Dolomite

You have been sold a bogus book by a con man.

"Trump: The Art of the Deal" was ghostwritten by Tony Schwartz.

Schwartz co-authored "Risking Failure, Surviving Success" for Michael Eisner, "The Power of Full Engagement: Managing Energy Not Time" for LGE chairman Jim Loehr, ""Manage Energy Not Time: The Science of Stamina", co-authored with The Energy Project's Catherine McCarthy, and lots of other ghost written stuff.

See: newyorker.com/magazine/2016/07/25/donald-trumps-ghostwriter-tells-all

on Dec 26, 2016

'"How much of the problem is/was related to the governments own handling/mishandling of the project?"
- lgssgl@yahoo.com

The various requirements of the JSF ensured it could only be a jack of all roles and master of none.

The F-22 had proven the team of USAF and Lockheed Martin were not trustworthy or competent to develop a combat aircraft on time, at cost and to specification. That LM was not capable of an honest proffer and the USAF was not competent to judge a competition and manage the development program was proven by the ATF competition and the F-22 program.

The USAF exhibited a total lack of due diligence and serious misfeasance if not malfeasance in awarding the contract to Lockheed given it's performance on the F-22.

Failure to accomplish objectives in a timely fashion within costs is ongoing.
bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-08-24/lockheed-s-f-35-still-falls-short-pentagon-s-chief-tester-says
aviationweek.com/defense/f-35-development-could-see-7-month-slip-530m-increase

The badly botched F-35 is the only game in town and we are stuck with it.

If Trump wishes to save money in the future a criminal investigation of ALL officers involved in the JSF competition and F-35 program, as well as Lockheed at every level, should be a first order of business. That would disclose the relationships, motives and actions which resulted in the F-35 fiasco. Thus give pause in the future to any USAF officer which sees preserving the program as more career enhancing than protecting the taxpayer.

on Dec 26, 2016

Trump could very well bring down expenditure by reducing the number of F-35's and extending the service life of current 4th Gen aircraft through upgradation. Isn't that what happened to the F-22? And didn't Boeing pitch in then with its F-15 upgrades?
His English may be sloppy, but his ideas may not be so. Maybe what DT is exploring with Boeing is how far and how fast a Hornet/Super Hornet upgrade can be pushed so as to give him his options.

on Dec 26, 2016

Trump's initial discussions with Lockheed and Boeing are simply to communicate his dissatisfaction with F-35 cost and cost-containment and to prod Lockheed to come up with more aggressive cost reductions. If I were Lockheed's CEO, I wouldn't smirk and lapse back into the same arguments and statistics peddled to the Pentagon and Congress, thinking that there is no viable alternative to the F-35. Trump could shift gears in discussions with Boeing and pursue the F-15 Silent Eagle concept which would offer more appeal to the Air Force than the Super Hornet. The F-15SE was impressive enough to initially win the South Korean competition before its military overrode the decision. If Boeing could offer the F-15SE at savings of at least 30% versus the F-35A, then there would be a platform that offered frontal-aspect stealth, superior air-to-air combat agility, advanced radar capabilities, and superior weapons capacity (in a non-stealth configuration once air dominance was achieved).

on Jan 4, 2017

What's funny is Trump's doing what many people in this comment space were recommending - explore an upgraded 4th gen attack aircraft to bridge the services over until F-35 REALLY achieves IOC (instead of a transparent pencil-whip IOC acquisition of aircraft that don't meet design specs).

Trump got handed an unmade baby with the F-35 program (one whose diaper suffers the same issue as the current POTUS). F-35 program officers have had the option of going along with the Obama party line that the F-35 is an air superiority fighter or be sacked for insubordination, and suddenly this is Trump's fault?

Perhaps Trump is heeding the wisdom that "Perfect is the enemy of good enough."

on Jan 6, 2017

i believe Trump was never in arms business. i think he is the right guy for the country right now. how long USA will pour its taxpayers money in unnecessary military funding. how much military power is enough for America to protect its borders. even small countries with very little military power are living happily why can't USA.

a country should have a military power only to protect its borders, they should be limited to postings inside its sovereign territory. does America don't have enough to protect its borders.

i think its time for USA to stop further military modernization and concentrate on civilian welfare projects. they should concentrate on sending people to the moon and if possible set up a colony there.

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