Pentagon chief orders review of F-35 fighter program

A U.S. Air Force weapons load crew assigned to the 33rd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron loads a live GBU-12 into an F-35A January 18, 2017, at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida. The 33rd Fighter Wing loaded and released the Air Education and Training Command’s first live bombs from an F-35A. Six aircraft were loaded with armed GBU-12s, and two bombs were released over the Eglin Air Force Base range. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Peter Thompson)

US Secretary of Defense James Mattis has ordered a review of the Lockheed Martin F-35 stealth fighter program after President Donald Trump assailed its $400 billion price tag, the Pentagon announced Friday.

At the same time, Mattis ordered a similar review of the $4 billion cost for developing a new aircraft for the US president, Air Force One, the ultra-high-tech and secure 747 built by Boeing.

“The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program is a critical acquisition program that warrants a detailed assessment to reduce associated program costs,” Mattis said in the order.

He said the deputy secretary of defense will oversee the review to find ways “to significantly reduce the cost” while ensuring the new jets, which cost about $100 million each, meet US defense needs.

He said the review should also compare the F-35 with the Boeing-built F-18 Super Hornet fighter to see if the latter, which costs significantly less, can meet US needs.

In December, Trump assailed both the F-35 and Air Force One programs as overly costly, and after that met with the chief executives of Lockheed Martin and Boeing to try to extract savings.

“The F-35 program and cost is out of control. Billions of dollars can and will be saved on military (and other) purchases,” Trump said on Twitter at the time.

Lockheed shares sink
The first 200 F-35s of a program that envisions some 2,450 ultimately being acquired by the different US armed services have been delivered. The aircraft have also been sold to Israel, with the first two delivered in December.

Proponents tout the F-35’s radar-dodging stealth technology, supersonic speeds, close air-support capabilities, airborne agility and a massive array of sensors giving pilots unparalleled…

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