Earlier this week, President-elect Donald Trump tweeted criticism over the F-35 fighter jet program. It caused Lockheed Martin stock to fall 2.5 percent. It also raised some eyebrows in the Northeast. The Vermont Air National Guard is scheduled to begin receiving the fighter jet in 2019. Supporters of the F-35 say they aren’t worried those plans will change because the tweet raises two very different issues.
President-elect Donald Trump typed: “The F-35 program and cost is out of control. Billions of dollars can and will be saved on military (and other) purchases after January 20th.” The tweet from Trump targeting the F-35 did not explain how he would control F-35 costs or military spending.
The first of 18 F-35s are scheduled to arrive in Burlington in 2019 to replace the current fleet of F-16s. Democratic Vermont Congressman Peter Welch does not believe Trump can stop the Burlington Air Guard’s plan. “These F-35’s that are assigned to Burlington have already been produced. These are planes that exist and they're going to be transferred here. On the question of the tweet where he's focusing on the endemic problem in the Pentagon of cost overruns I agree with him. A lot of us have been arguing to go after waste in the Pentagon for a long time. And if that's going to be a priority of President Trump I'm going to support him.”
New York Congresswoman Elise Stefanik’s district includes Fort Drum. The Republican sits on the House Armed Services Committee and strongly supports the fighter jet program. “The Vermont National Guard, which uses F-35’s, they plan on doing training in our airspace surrounding Fort Drum. So it's important to our district. It's also important to our military readiness and to ensure that we have technological capabilities that far surpass our adversaries around the world today. What I do agree with however is we need to find savings. President-elect Trump as a candidate talked about the importance of investing in our national defense and I will continue to be a voice in ensuring that we also have investment in our military readiness and standing strong against the across-the-board defense cuts which have gutted our military.”
Green Ribbons for the F-35s was formed by businesswoman Nicole Citro to show community support to base the jets in Burlington. She notes that plans are already well under way. “The Secretary of the Air Force has already made the decision that the F-35 is going to be based with the Vermont Air National Guard and that is already in the midst of implementation. I think President-elect Trump was realizing as I think most of us do how out of control government spending is and government contracts need to be reined in. They acknowledge the fact that this aircraft platform is going to be universal throughout all our armed forces. So it's not a matter of doing away with it. It's just making it cost effective.”
Stop the F-35 Coalition member James Leas says it’s remarkable that even Trump recognizes the F-35 program is a quote “complete boondoggle.” “It's extremely negative for the taxpayers. There's no reason why private companies should be making profits at all when it comes to national security. The whole system is really being called into question by Donald Trump and rightly so.”
The F-35 is the most expensive Pentagon weapons program, with a nearly $400 billion price tag. Built by Lockheed Martin the F-35 program accounted for 20 percent of the company's total 2015 revenue.