Trump Probably Won’t Cancel F-35. Just Ask Jim Mattis

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The incoming president’s recent comments about Lockheed Martin’s F-35 have sent the defense community into a frenzy, with observers racing to figure out exactly what Donald Trump has in store for the stealth fighter.

Trump has slammed the F-35 for “out of control” costs, asked Boeing to price out the cost to build a “comparable” F/A-18 Super Hornet and called for “competition” in the defense market. Investors are watching the dialogue closely, and some clearly fear the worst – each time Trump slams the F-35, Lockheed’s stock temporarily slumps. Some observers have interpreted the comments as Trump hinting that he wants to compete the F-35 against the Super Hornet, or cancel the program altogether.

But Trump’s nominee for Secretary of Defense, retired U.S. Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis, provided a simpler, more likely, explanation.

“The president-elect has talked about the cost of [the F-35] but in no way shown a lack of support for the program,” Mattis told the Senate Armed Services Committee during his confirmation hearing. “He just wants the best bang for the buck.”

In other words, Trump is just trying to pressure Lockheed to get costs down.

Mattis, who presumably will have some input on any decision regarding the military’s next-generation fighter, offered a resounding defense of the F-35.  

“The F-35 is critical for our own air superiority, because of its electronics capability inherent to the airplane, which magnifies each individual aircraft's capability,” Mattis said during the hearing. “It is equally important and more so to our allies, because this will be the total strength of their Air Force.”

“Many of our allies have bet their security on the F-35,” he said.

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