Mattis’s First Big Action Has the Defense Industry Worried

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President Donald Trump has a new ally. James Mattis, in his first official week as Secretary of Defense, has gone after the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program by ordering an assessment of the whole program.

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As The Daily Caller reports:

“Mattis’s Friday memorandum directed the deputy secretary of defense to conduct a review of the F-35 program in order to determine if there are any opportunities to reduce cost. Additionally, the deputy secretary will engage in a parallel assessment comparing the F-35C and the F/A-18E/F capabilities in order to determine if the F/A-18E/F can be improved to provide a ‘competitive, cost effective, fighter aircraft alternative.'”

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Mattis’s critics are surprised by the request to re-evaluate the F-18. They expected a Trump administration to double-down on defense spending and green-light new projects.

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Mattis also requested a review of spending on presidential aircraft. Air Force 1, especially, has been criticized by the new President as too costly.

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“The purpose of these reviews is to inform programmatic and budgetary decisions, recognizing the critical importance of each of these acquisition programs,” the Pentagon wrote in a statement. “This is a prudent step to incorporate additional information into the budget preparation process and to inform the secretary’s recommendations to the president regarding critical military capabilities.”

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The F-35 program, though expensive, is viewed by many as the logical next-step in the development of U.S. fighter aircraft. That expense, estimated at $279 million per plane, has drawn much criticism. After intense pressure, the cost was lowered to $102 million. “An F/A-18E/F Super Hornet had a unit cost of $70.5 million in 2013,” DC reports.

The debate is about cost, now, but will inevitably shift to an arms race soon enough. The F-35 is an attempt to keep America ahead of the aircraft development of Russia and China.  An investment in the F-18 will answer short-term fiscal concerns, but will stall the practical development of new technologies. The F-18 was introduced in 1983.

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