Trump Can’t Keep His Multibillion Dollar Pentagon Programs Straight
Policy + Politics

Trump Can’t Keep His Multibillion Dollar Pentagon Programs Straight

REUTERS/Brian Snyder

Donald Trump didn’t serve in the military, but he has repeatedly boasted he’s the only Republican presidential candidate who can transform how the Defense Department does business and revamp the armed services. Well, if he wants to do that, he should probably learn the difference between a strategic bomber and the F-35.

During an interview with conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt, Trump was asked if the Pentagon really needs a new strategic bomber or “should we just stick with submarines and missiles?”

Related: Here’s Why 'President Trump' Might Dump the F-35

“Now when you talk about the bomber, here’s what I don’t like. I have been reading, and I read one article in particular, where the pilots, and these are great test pilots, and pilots generally, but pilots in testing it said our old planes are better. They perform better. They handle better. Every aspect, they were saying they’re better,” he replied.

Trump went on: “So I’m saying wait a minute, if they’re better, why are we ordering these unbelievably expensive planes? So I would have some real problems because of cost, and I know I could get the cost down. But what bothers me tremendously is the fact that I heard test pilots saying that the old planes maneuver better, work better, and they like them better. That bothers me.”

The response is an almost verbatim critique to the one Trump gave the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter when he appeared on Hewitt’s show last month.

“I’m hearing that our existing planes are better. And one of the pilots came out of the plane, one of the test pilots, and said this isn’t as good as what we already have. And to spend billions and billions of dollars on something that maybe isn’t as good,” Trump said of the roughly $400 billion weapons program at the time.

Related: Why the New Stealth Bomber Could Cost More Than $100 Billion

Last week the Pentagon awarded Northrop Grumman the contract to develop the new Long Range Strike-Bomber, an effort that could cost well over $100 billion in the coming decades. The firm beat out a joint Lockheed Martin-Boeing team for the lucrative award.

Trump’s penchant for speaking off the cuff has gotten him in trouble before when it comes to national security, like in his campaign announcement when he labeled Army Pvt. Bowe Bergdahl – who is facing charges in a military court for walking away from his post in Afghanistan in 2009 – as a “traitor.”

In August, Trump claimed a retired Army colonel was one of his advisers on the topic, when in reality the two had never met.  And there are his claims that as commander in chief he would “bomb the hell” out of Iraq’s oil fields in order to choke funding for ISIS.

Hewitt tried to steer the real estate mogul back on track, saying “a lot of people like the F-18 Super Hornet more than the F-35, but this B-3, the strategic bomber, I think we have to have bomber, but I will probably be bringing this up in Las Vegas” at next week’s GOP debate.

Related: How Congress Gave the Pentagon a $5 Billion Haircut

Trump agreed national security should be a key topic, but didn’t seem to take the hint.

“We’re putting up the dollars, we’re spending unbelievable dollars, and when you talk about planes costing that amount of money, can it be done for less? I guarantee you it can be done for not less, but much, much less. But you check this out. The pilots that were testing it did not like it as much as the old equipment. That’s not good, and I think you would agree with that, Hugh,” he said.

On Friday, the Lockheed-Boeing team filed a protest with the Government Accountability Office about the bomber award, charging the Pentagon’s selection process was flawed.

The GAO has 100 days to review the protest and issue a ruling.