President-elect Donald Trump fired off a series of tweets early this morning, as he is wont to do, this time with one of them aimed at the F-35 Lightning II program. Over the years the Joint Strike Fighter program has grown massively over-complicated and over-budget, but Trump hasn’t yet said what he wants to do about it—if he can do anything about it.
To his credit he’s right about the jet’s costs. Over the past few years it’s become the poster child for overblown military spending, a trillion-dollar money pit that maybe can’t best the jet it’s replacing in a dogfight. It’s received widespread criticism from within and outside of the military.
But unlike the tweet in which he yelled at his Amazon Alexa to “Cancel order!” on the next Air Force One, Trump isn’t exactly proscribing anything here. He’s not saying the F-35 program, with Lockheed Martin as the general contractor, will be canceled, just that the United States will save “billions of dollars.” Don’t worry about the specifics.
The problem with wanting to go ahead and start saving money on the F-35 now is that, for the most part, the time to speak up was 20 years ago. Much of the trail of its bloated cost can be found in its tortured development, which itself was borne out of a deeply strange requirement. The one F-35 platform was supposed to replace a bountiful variety of planes, ranging from the fast and light F-16 Viper, to the hovering AV-8B Harrier II, to the massively armored flying gun known as the A-10 Warthog.
It was, in short, an essentially impossible task that was somehow supposed to save everyone money in the long run. And even when it became blatantly obvious that this hodgepodge of competing requirements was never going to work properly, the defense establishment realized that such a massive program would be a lot harder to kill if its largesse could be spread across as many Congressional districts as possible.