F-35 General: Boeing Heard Nothing ‘Unreleasable’ in F-35 Call With Trump

Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg at Trump Tower after discussing the Advanced F-18 Super Hornet, the F-35, and under-development Air Force One replacement. Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg at Trump Tower after discussing the Advanced F-18 Super Hornet, the F-35, and under-development Air Force One replacement. Andrew Harnik/AP

When Donald Trump spoke to the Air Force general in charge of the F-35 program on Jan. 17, there was someone else listening in on the phone call about the Lockheed Martin jet: the CEO of Boeing, whose own strike fighter might just be poised to get some F-35 money.

On Thursday, Lt. Gen. Chris Bogdan acknowledged earlier reports that Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg was also on the call. Though Bogdan declined to comment on the appropriateness of Boeing’s participation, he said, “The things that I talked about in front of Mr. Muilenburg were clearly publicly releasable information and I understand the rules about talking about Lockheed Martin stuff in front of Mr. Muilenburg.”

Lockheed Martin had no comment on the phone calls.

A few weeks earlier, Trump had tweeted his dissatisfaction with the Joint Strike Fighter program: “Based on the tremendous cost and cost overruns of the Lockheed Martin F-35, I have asked Boeing to price-out a comparable F-18 Super Hornet!” A month later, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis officially directed the Pentagon to do so.

Based on the tremendous cost and cost overruns of the Lockheed Martin F-35, I have asked Boeing to price-out a comparable F-18 Super Hornet!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 22, 2016

Bogdan said the call’s other topics included Boeing’s in-development Air Force One replacement, and the company’s proposed Advanced F-18 Super Hornet that is either a competitor or complement to the F-35, depending on who you ask. What united all the topics, Bogdan said at a House Armed Services subcommittee hearing, was that Trump was “in learning mode” about all of them.  

“It’s important to understand that the discussions that we had were all pre-decisional,” Bogdan said. “It was my belief that President-elect Trump at the time was attempting to gain more information about the F-35 and its affordability, trying to gain more information about the F-35’s capabilities relative to the Super Hornet and to gain more information about the presidential aircraft replacement program."

Bogdan had previously discussed the F-35 with Trump as part of a larger briefing with other military leaders in Mar-a-Lago Dec. 21, and again by phone Jan. 9.

Since the last phone call, Bogdan said he’s sent information up the chain through the Secretary of Defense, and “would expect that would be the normal way of doing business” going forward.

But the three conversations between Bogdan and Trump weren’t the first time the soon-to-be commander-in-chief had directly involved himself in the F-35 program. In mid-December, Trump called it “out of control.”

The F-35 program and cost is out of control. Billions of dollars can and will be saved on military (and other) purchases after January 20th.

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 12, 2016

After the Dec. 21 meeting with military officials and subsequent calls with Bogdan, Trump ordered Mattis to do a formal comparison between the F-35 and F-18.

“The questions that [Trump] asked and the answers that I gave were the foundation of the tasks that came out from Secretary Mattis two weeks ago, which are ongoing right now,” Bogdan said.

But even before that review was a week old, Trump reversed his position on the F-35, telling a group of small business leaders meeting at the White House in late January that “Lockheed is doing a very good job as of now.” He also claimed credit for ending “seven years of delays [and] tremendous cost overruns.”

It’s not clear whether that change of heart had more to do with the information Bogdan shared or with the decrease in the F-35’s price tag between the the ninth order negotiated in 2015 and the tenth order announced soon after Trump’s inauguration. The cost of the Air Force’s F-35A, for example, fell below $100 million per plane for the first time ever—though that price drop and similar decreases on the B- and C-variants were all in line with historical decreases.

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
FROM OUR SPONSORS
JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Close [ x ] More from GovExec
 
 

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Going Agile:Revolutionizing Federal Digital Services Delivery

    Here’s one indication that times have changed: Harriet Tubman is going to be the next face of the twenty dollar bill. Another sign of change? The way in which the federal government arrived at that decision.

    Download
  • Cyber Risk Report: Cybercrime Trends from 2016

    In our first half 2016 cyber trends report, SurfWatch Labs threat intelligence analysts noted one key theme – the interconnected nature of cybercrime – and the second half of the year saw organizations continuing to struggle with that reality. The number of potential cyber threats, the pool of already compromised information, and the ease of finding increasingly sophisticated cybercriminal tools continued to snowball throughout the year.

    Download
  • Featured Content from RSA Conference: Dissed by NIST

    Learn more about the latest draft of the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology guidance document on authentication and lifecycle management.

    Download
  • GBC Issue Brief: The Future of 9-1-1

    A Look Into the Next Generation of Emergency Services

    Download
  • GBC Survey Report: Securing the Perimeters

    A candid survey on cybersecurity in state and local governments

    Download
  • The New IP: Moving Government Agencies Toward the Network of The Future

    Federal IT managers are looking to modernize legacy network infrastructures that are taxed by growing demands from mobile devices, video, vast amounts of data, and more. This issue brief discusses the federal government network landscape, as well as market, financial force drivers for network modernization.

    Download
  • eBook: State & Local Cybersecurity

    CenturyLink is committed to helping state and local governments meet their cybersecurity challenges. Towards that end, CenturyLink commissioned a study from the Government Business Council that looked at the perceptions, attitudes and experiences of state and local leaders around the cybersecurity issue. The results were surprising in a number of ways. Learn more about their findings and the ways in which state and local governments can combat cybersecurity threats with this eBook.

    Download

When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.