There is a dignity in the Office of being President of the United States of America and it is one that I fear President-Elect, Donald Trump has, even before he has taken up residency in the White House, seriously damaged.
When, as President of the US from January 20th, in just a few time Donald Trump and his chosen team are finally ensconced in the White House they will have access to all of the facts that they need in order to form a view and create forward policy. The tradition is that until then they stay quiet and respect that they do not yet hold the Office of President.
Of course, driven by advances in technology and communication we find ourselves in yet another new age and one in which the ability to instantly comment and criticise through the good offices of Twitter is available to all, including the President-Elect. But I caution the Trump team on the serious damage that they have already done in terms of creating fear and I consider that sending out ill-informed, dangerous and damaging views on Twitter that can so easily be distorted, misrepresented and that are factually untrue should have no place in any message emanating from the Office of the President-Elect or indeed, from any President of the United States of America.
Seemingly without having any necessary facts President-Elect Donald Trump tweeted yesterday that F-35 Joint Strike Fighter costs were ‘out of control’. Not surprisingly, shares in Lockheed Martin, the Bethesda, Maryland based company that has overall responsibility for F-35 development and production along with many of those with whom the company is partnered such as Northrop Grumman, BAE Systems plus many in the supply chain such as United Technologies found their shares hammered as a direct result.
Ill-informed remarks that are not evidenced based are in my view totally irresponsible and should have no place in government let alone in views emanating on Twitter from ant President-Elect. Not only do they cause untold damage to share values but importantly, they cause serious harm to morale as they damage confidence to the tens of thousands of highly skilled workers and professionals engaged on programmes such as the F-35 Lightning ll Joint Strike Fighter programme just as they do of those who work in the various partner companies and across the whole supply chain.
A more serious issue behind Donald Trump’s ill-timed and ill-informed remarks in regard of F-35 Lightning ll is that they ignore that unlike anything that has gone before this is an international programme partnership. The achievements of highly invested international companies such as BAE Systems facilities at Samlesbury, Lancashire, Rolls-Royce which developed and builds the LiftFan for the F-35 ‘B-‘ STOVL variant, the massive amount of work that Northrop Grumman performs as a partner on the F-35 program that includes centre fuselage production, work done by Alenia Aermacchi in Italy, a company that produces some of the F-35 wings plus various others involved across what is an international supply chain cannot and should not be dismissed so easily by the President-Elect. Without exception, all these companies have affordability writ large as the priority objective for them and all are engaged in the continuous challenge to reduce F-35 aircraft costs whilst not detracting from the operational capability of the aircraft. This then Mr. Trump, is far from being just a Lockheed Martin only issue.
Lockheed Martin has in my view been very clear about its willingness to have any opportunity to address any questions that the President-Elect has about the F-35 programme and every opportunity has I am sure been open to Mr. Trump to raise issues direct with the company. This he has clearly not done.
Just a week ago President Elect Trump had caused huge amount of angst by tweeting that the Government should cancel development deals with Boeing to design a new generation of Air Force One aircraft based on the existing 747-8 aircraft and then went on to suggest that he would rather use his elderly 757 aircraft instead. What sort of message does this send out and wasn’t Donald Trump supposed to be standing on the back of Making America Great Again?
For the record, the existing fleet of two Boeing 747 aircraft known as Air Force One have provided excellent service for all US President and their staff since these entered service in the early 1990’s. Not surprisingly both are due replacement. Quoting figures that I understand no-one else involved in the Air Force One program has yet recognised, Trump cited cost overruns as being “out of control” even though as far as I am aware deals signed with Boeing were only done in January and July this year and no actual new aircraft have yet been ordered.
In tweeting that “the F-35 program and its costs are out of control” and that “billions of dollars can and will be saved on military (and other) purchases after January 20” (the day of his inauguration as the 45th President of the US) is as unwelcome as the former part of the statement is completely untrue.
The irrational and somewhat ill-informed remarks made by President Elect Trump yesterday in relation to the F-35 program are all the worse because, as far as I am aware, the only contact that he has so far had with the industry trade group. Aerospace Industries Association (AIA) is highly respected in the industry and it has confirmed that its staff met with Mr. Trump’s defence transition team on Monday and who had I believe expressed complete confidence in the industry’s ability to tackle any concerns raised by the incoming administration. True, Mr. Trump had himself met personally with AIA and various defence chief executives back in June, but according to an AIA spokesman, he [Trump] failed to raise any concerns about cost growth in military programs. Indeed, I am led to believe that the June meeting focused on the impact of budget cuts and efforts by some in the industry to reduce regulatory controls.
In writing this piece and with my annoyance over the damage caused by Trump tweets clear for all to see I am obliged to point out to President-Elect Trump that since the beginning of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter programme Lockheed Martin has itself invested substantial sums of its own money and that has assisted in reducing the price of the aircraft by more than 70 percent – a figure that translates to be a price tag of approximately $85 million per aircraft in the 2019/20 timeframe. Arguably, the fifth-generation F-35 jet will actually be less expensive than any fourth-generation fighter and yet it will come with unmatched capabilities and represent excellent overall value for those operating it.
The importance and recognition of affordability being a key issue in the F-35 has never been lost and in addition it is worth pointing out here that Lockheed Martin and its industry partners such as BAE Systems and Northrop Grumman have invested considerable sums to ensure sustainment costs are reduced. This is recognition that a substantial element of F-35 procurement cost relates to sustainment of the military jet in service through what can easily be expected to be a 30 to 40 year lifespan.
Thankfully, none of the damage that Donald Trump has so far done will change the minds of international air forces who are acquiring the F-35 aircraft. They well know as I do that what they get in the F-35 is quite amazing technology and capability. In the UK for instance and when teamed with Eurofighter Typhoon, the Royal Air Force and Royal Navy will have a benchmark capability that will be the most technically advanced and interoperable air power capability available.
The annoyance of the Australian Government and which is also acquiring the F-35 was made very clear by Defence Minister, Christopher Pyne who tweeted “we’re sticking with Joint Strike Fighter despite Donald Trump’s attack” and interestingly, particularly given past opposition to the F-35 by the Canadian Government, when asked about U.S. President-elect Donald Trump’s criticism of theF-35 program Prime Minister Justin Trudeau replied that “Canada is sticking to plans to run an open competition for fighter jets and that the Lockheed Martin F-35 will have a chance to take part”. Do I note a softening of approach here?
CHW (London – 13th December 2016)
Howard Wheeldon FRAeS
Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd,
M: +44 7710 779785