Lockheed Martin CEO Marillyn Hewson praised President Donald Trump’s involvement with the F-35 fighter jet program on Tuesday while acknowledging the program was long-scheduled to undergo cost reductions as it ramps up production.
“What he did do was to help accelerate the negotiations,” Hewson said during a speech at the company’s media day in Arlington, Virginia.
“The F-35 is the largest defense program in its budget and so for him to focus on the F-35 and to look at how you get the best price for the taxpayer going forward I think is perfectly appropriate,” she said. “I think he put a sharper focus on price and how we could drive the price down, he absolutely did contribute to us getting to closure on that. I will admit that as we continue to ramp up the program we will see cost reductions just through volume but his emphasis and engagement did make a difference.”
The president has been intimately involved with the F-35, which is manufactured in Fort Worth, Texas, ever since winning the November election. Trump tweeted his dissatisfaction with the program over its costs in December and ordered a Pentagon review of the F-35 to determine whether the F-18 Super Hornet, built by Lockheed competitor Boeing, could potentially replace the Navy’s version of the F-35.
Hewson reiterated that the cost of an F-35-A, the cheapest version of the plane capable of traditional takeoff and landings, will cost $85 million per plane by 2019 and that international customers will comprise nearly 50 percent of the F-35’s growth in upcoming years. Lockheed aims to save $5 billion on the aircraft in coming years.
“The F-35-A is currently at its lowest price in program history,” Hewson said.
The F-35-A is currently at its lowest price in program history.
Lockheed Martin CEO Marillyn Hewson
The decreased costs are mostly due to an increase in production as Lockheed builds up to full capacity at its Fort Worth facility. Lockheed said Tuesday that they aim to complete 66 F-35s at the facility in 2017, up from 46 in 2016.
Hewson said the White House has not gotten involved in negotiations for the 11th wave of F-35s, which she anticipates will wrap up by the end of this year.
F-35 program executive Jeff Babione was optimistic that operational testing for the F-35 will be ready by the end of 2017, even as Pentagon officials have expressed doubts about that timetable.
“We’re dealing with unknowns,” Babione said, acknowledging that Lockheed or the Pentagon could be off by a few months. “We are not going to be off six, seven or eight months.”
But Hewson expressed satisfaction with Congress, where the House recently passed a 2017 defense appropriations bill with bipartisan support.
“What I’m hopeful for is they will eliminate sequestration,” Hewson said of Congress, where Republican Rep. Kay Granger of Fort Worth occupies a powerful seat on the defense appropriations subcommittee.
Granger received $125,300 in campaign contributions from Lockheed during the 2016 election cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
But Lockheed is bullish about its relationship with Trump, who has taken credit for recent cost reductions in the program and newly announced jobs in Fort Worth.
“Since his election, President Trump has made clear that he and his administration will be focusing on ensuring that the government is a smart buyer, getting the most for the taxpayer’s dollar,” Hewson said. “In our positive and constructive dialogues over the last few months we were able to communicate how Lockheed Martin is fully aligned with these efforts.”