National Security

Mattis’s First Big Move Is Likely To Rankle Military Elites

REUTERS/U.S. Air Force photo/Randy Gon/Handout

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Russ Read Pentagon/Foreign Policy Reporter
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James Mattis ordered an assessment of the costly F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program as his first major decision as secretary of defense.

Mattis’s Friday memorandum directed the deputy secretary of defense to conduct a review of the F-35 program in order to determine if there are any opportunities to reduce cost. Additionally, the deputy secretary will engage in a parallel assessment comparing the F-35C and the F/A-18E/F capabilities in order to determine if the F/A-18E/F can be improved to provide a “competitive, cost effective, fighter aircraft alternative.” Mattis ordered the review to be conducted immediately so that its results can be used to make future budget decisions. Mattis also issued a separate memo which will review costs associated with a program to revamp presidential aircraft.

A Pentagon statement attempted to allay any concerns as to confidence in the fighter program.

“The purpose of these reviews is to inform programmatic and budgetary decisions, recognizing the critical importance of each of these acquisition programs,” said the statement. “This is a prudent step to incorporate additional information into the budget preparation process and to inform the secretary’s recommendations to the president regarding critical military capabilities.”

The F-35 program is as controversial as it is expensive. Defense hawks see it as a necessary evolution in U.S. military air power, while critics decry the program’s astronomical cost. The first lot of F-35s cost approximately $279 million a piece, though the cost per unit lowered to $102 million in the most recent order placed Nov. 2, 2016. By comparison, an F/A-18E/F Super Hornet had a unit cost of $70.5 million in 2013.

President Donald Trump criticized Lockheed-Martin’s pricey F-35 last month, suggesting in a series of tweets that he is interested in asking Boeing to “price-out” a comparable Super Hornet.

Lockheed Martin’s stock took a dip after the memo was announced, closing 1.47 points down after the market closed Friday.

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