The Art of an F-35 Deal: Did Trump Engineer a Lockheed-Boeing Pact?

The Art of an F-35 Deal: Did Trump Engineer a Lockheed-Boeing Pact?

Lockheed Martin

Has the Dealmaker-in-Chief engineered an agreement with Lockheed Martin to secure a block purchase of controversial F-35 stealth fighters in exchange for Lockheed not protesting possible Navy plans to buy advanced versions of Boeing’s F/A-18 Super Hornet?

The deal, which the military watchdog website Center for Defense Information says could involve more than 450 F-35s, would be worth about $42.7 billion based on the lowest current per-unit cost of the aircraft. The post on CDI, which is part of the Project on Government Oversight (POGO), was the source for a CNBC story today, but Michael Rein, a spokesman for Lockheed, said in an email, “The assertions made in the POGO blog concerning Lockheed Martin and the potential block buy for F-35s are 100 percent false.”

Related: F-18 vs. F-35: Why Is Trump Talking Up the Super Hornet? 

A Defense Dept. official said that there had been discussions about a block buy for about two years but denied any knowledge of a quid pro quo involving Lockheed’s silence in the face of a push for more F/A-18s. He also said that the 452 aircraft in any block buy would not all be purchased by the U.S. A Boeing spokesperson said in an email that the company would have no comment.

However, Dan Grazier, the author of the POGO post and a former Marine officer, said that his source is impeccable and he stands by the report.  “I note that [Lockheed Martin] issued a blanket denial rather than attempt to refute the specifics.”

As Grazier notes in his report, President Trump has held meetings with Lockheed CEO Marilyn Hewson and Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg and taken credit for jawboning down the spiraling cost of both the F-35 and a new Air Force One being built by Boeing.

Citing an unnamed source, Grazier wrote: “The deal is essentially this: The Pentagon will purchase new model F/A-18 fighters from Boeing (approximate cost $92 million each) while the company agrees to work with the government to keep costs down on the Air Force One replacement.”

Grazier is referring to what would be the F/A-18 Advanced Super Hornet. The cost for the most current version of the F/A-18 Super Hornet is about $77 million each.

The rest of the deal, he went on to say, is that “Lockheed Martin will not complain about the F/A-18 purchases because the president will work to secure the F-35 multi-year block buy.”

Related: Is the F-35 Really Streaking by Its Troubled Past?

The POGO post said that since the F-35 “has not yet even started the critical combat testing phase of its development,” production should be halted until the tests are completed. The DoD spokesman said the Pentagon is at the “tail end” of F-35 development and testing would be completed next year.

One F-35 flaw cited by CNBC was vertical oscillation on takeoff by the Navy’s carrier version of the aircraft, the F-35C, causing whiplash for some pilots. Lockheed said it has “just finished testing on a solution [to that issue in] the past month and it is being evaluated for approval by the Navy.  If approved, we’d test it this fall during a sea deployment.”