Tuesday 20 March 2018

Trump slams fighter jet costs as attack on military spending widens

Donald Trump Photo: Reuters
Donald Trump Photo: Reuters

Alan Rutherford and Ruth Sherlock

Donald Trump widened his attack on US defence spending, slamming Lockheed Martin's F-35 fighter jet programme as too expensive as aides to the president-elect said he intended to keep pushing to cut the costs of military hardware.

"The F-35 programme and cost is out of control," Mr Trump (pictured inset) said on Twitter, echoing campaign promises to cut waste in federal spending. "Billions of dollars can and will be saved on military (and other) purchases after January 20."

The subsequent share price drop cut $4bn (€3.76bn) from the company's value. Last week, he used Twitter to target Boeing for its "out of control" costs on a new fleet of Air Force One planes, urging the federal government to "cancel" the order.

US Senate Armed Services Committee chairman John McCain backed Mr Trump's criticism of the F-35's costs.

Mr McCain, who has voiced support for the F-35 in the past, said a US president cannot cancel a programme for which funds have been allocated, but can reduce its purchase over time.

"He can reduce the buy over time, next year, as we look at it again," Mr McCain said.

The verbal attacks on Boeing and Lockheed Martin raised concerns the Trump administration will threaten defence contractors' profit margins.

"I would expect this to be wide-reaching and impact all of government as we look to come up with better deals," Trump transition spokesman Jason Miller said. "Some deals that have been in place, we're going to look for opportunities to go back through and make sure we're not taken advantage of."

Unwinding a programme of this size, involving contractors in nearly every state and eight partner nations, was unlikely, Baird Equity Research analyst Peter Arment wrote.

"But what is likely, is the message to the industry of potentially more risk-sharing on costs. This is potentially a new paradigm for the industry," he wrote.

Lockheed Martin's F-35 programme leader, Jeff Babione, responded by saying the company understands concerns about affordability and has invested millions to reduce the jet's price.

Mr Babione said Lockheed's goal was to reduce the price of the F-35 by 60pc from original estimates. "We project it to be about $85m (€80m) in the 2019 or 2020 time frame," he said.

Meanwhile, Mr Trump heaped further scorn on US intelligence assessments that Russia intervened in the presidential election - possibly to his favour - calling the reports a "conspiracy theory". The president-elect's aggressive response came as leading members of his own party called for a congressional investigation into the allegations of Russian interference.

"Can you imagine if the election results were the opposite and we tried to play the Russia/CIA card. It would be called conspiracy theory," he said on Twitter.

But senior Republican members of congress yesterday called for a congressional investigation. "Obviously any foreign breach of our cybersecurity measures is disturbing, and I strongly condemn any such efforts," said Mitch McConnell, the Republican senate majority leader. He added: "The Russians are not our friends."

John McCain, the Republican senator and chairman of the armed services committee, which would help drive the investigation, directly contradicted Mr Trump, saying there was "no doubt" the intelligence reports were accurate.He called the hacking by Russian intelligence services into Democratic campaign accounts "another form of warfare".

In a separate dispute, China's foreign ministry said yesterday it was "seriously concerned" by Mr Trump's questioning of America's commitment to the "One China" policy, which underpins diplomatic and business relationship between the two nations.

Mr Trump had said on Sunday that he did not see why the US should be "bound" by the One China policy.

"We are seriously concerned about it," said Geng Shuang, a foreign ministry spokesmen.

"The Taiwan question has a bearing on China's sovereignty and territorial integrity and is one of China's core interests." Wang Yi, China's foreign minister, yesterday said those who sought to damage the "one China" policy were "lifting a rock only to drop it on their feet". (© Daily Telegraph, London)


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