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