Lockheed Martin, maker of the troubled F-35 fighter jet, had no idea the CEO of chief rival Boeing was listening in as President Donald Trump talked to an Air Force general about the program.
Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg met with then President-elect Trump on Jan. 17, and heard part of a call with Lt. Gen. Christopher Bogdan, head of the F-35 program, Bloomberg News reported Thursday.
Trump began criticizing the F-35 program as too expensive on Twitter in December, and even publicly floated the idea of replacing the fighter jet with the fourth-generation F/A-18s, made by Boeing.
Muilenberg “appeared caught off-guard but heard at least Trump’s end of the call” at Trump Tower, Bloomberg reports, citing sources familiar with the incident.
“We discussed Air Force One, we discussed fighter aircraft,” Muilenburg told reporters after the meeting. Trump also wants to reduce the cost of replacing Air Force One, a contract Boeing currently holds.
The readout of Trump’s Jan. 17th call with Bogdan, and another call on Jan. 10 about the F-35 program, have not been publicly released.
Days after Trump’s inauguration, Lockheed and the Department of Defense announced the next F-35 contract, which saved around $738 million on the program. (RELATED: Trump: I Got Lockheed Martin To Cut The F-35 Program By $600 Million)
Lockheed credited the savings to Trump’s involvement in negotiations, but many defense industry experts say the contract was already going to have reduced costs, and Trump’s involvement in contract negotiations is a worrisome trend.
“President Trump’s personal involvement in the F-35 program accelerated the negotiations and sharpened our focus on driving down the price,” Lockheed said in a statement. “The agreement was reached in a matter of weeks and represents significant savings over previous contracts.”
Lockheed and the Defense Department expected the price of the F-35 to go down with the new contract. The February contract, known as Lot 10, is for more jets and takes advantage of economies of scale to reduce the per-jet costs.
The cost reduction “would’ve happened if Hillary Clinton had been elected president,” Loren Thompson, president of the Lexington Institute, a top defense industry consulting firm, told Politico.
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