Trump Says Cost of F-35 Fighter Jet Program 'Out of Control'

Meanwhile, Israel's first two F-35 jets take off after their departure was delayed due to poor weather conditions.

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U.S. president-elect Donald Trump is interviewed by 'Fox News Sunday' at Trump Tower in New York, December 10, 2016.
U.S. president-elect Donald Trump is interviewed by 'Fox News Sunday' at Trump Tower in New York, December 10, 2016.Credit: Richard Drew, AP

Donald Trump criticized Lockheed Martin's F-35 fighter jet program on Monday as too expensive, the latest attack by the U.S. president-elect on large defense contractors. 

Lockheed shares dropped 5.1 percent and shares of several other defense contractors also tumbled. 

"The F-35 program and cost is out of control," Trump 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 20th." 

Israel's first two F-35 jets took off from Italy to Israel Monday afternoon, after their departure was delayed due to poor weather conditions. Among those attending the welcome ceremony will be U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter. 

The Israeli security cabinet recently decided to purchase 17 more F-35s, bringing the total number of planes ordered by the air force to 50. The additional purchase will enable the air force to outfit two full squadrons of the planes.

An F-35 jet arrives at its new operational base at Hill Air Force Base, in northern Utah.Credit: Rick Bowmer/AP

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

Babione said Lockheed's goal was to reduce the price of the F-35 by 70 percent from its original estimates. "We project it to be about 85 million dollars in the 2019 or 2020 time frame," he told reporters in Israel. 

A week before Trump won the November 8 presidential election, the U.S. Defense Department and Lockheed Martin concluded negotiations on their ninth contract for 90 F-35 fighter jets, the Pentagon said. Lockheed won the contract, valued at up to $7.18 billion, in late November and has received an interim payment. 

The Pentagon is paying about $102 million for each of the conventional takeoff A-model jets being built for the U.S. Air Force, Israel and many other countries, according to sources familiar with the program. That marks savings of over 50 percent from the initial jets ordered, reflecting larger quantities and the fact that many technical issues have been ironed out. 

The F-35 program has been dogged by problems since its inception, with the Pentagon's chief arms buyer once describing as "acquisition malpractice" the decision of previous officials to start producing the jets before their development had been completed. That decision led to a series of costly retrofits on early production jets. 

The Pentagon's chief weapons tester has continued to criticize the program, but the jets are now in operational use by the U.S. Marine Corps and Air Force and are being flown by five other countries besides Israel: Australia, Britain, Norway, Italy and the Netherlands. Japan took delivery of its first jet last week, according to a spokesman for the program. 

Still, cost overruns have made the F-35 a target for criticism. With an estimated price tag of $400 billion, the F-35 program has been described as the most expensive weapon system in history.