I’m not entirely sure what exactly makes the F-35—which has been encountered problems with its landing gear, its buggy software, and its ejection seats, among many other things—“great” now, but rest-assured, the F-35 is great again, as Defense One notes:
“The F-35 fighter jet — a great plane by the way, I have to tell you, and Lockheed is doing a very good job as of now,” Trump said Monday at a meeting with small business leaders at the White House. “There were great delays, about seven years of delays, tremendous cost overruns. We’ve ended all of that and we’ve got that program really, really now in good shape, so I’m very proud of that.”
It looks likely that Trump has declared its inherent greatness to be dependent on its cost, and he’s taking credit for knocking $600 million off the last batch of planes. His explanation for how he managed to do so, via the Washington Post, is a bit of his traditional word salad, but bear with us here as we need to parse it out:
But we cut approximately $600 million off the F-35 fighter, and that only amounts to 90 planes out of close to 3,000 planes. And when you think about $600 million, it was announced by Marillyn, who’s very talented, the head of Lockheed Martin. I got involved in that about a month ago.
A lot was put out, and when they say a lot, a lot meant about 90 planes. They were having a lot of difficulty. There was no movement and I was able to get $600 million approximately off those planes.
In case that’s hard to read, Trump appears to be claiming a reduction of $600 million off the price of a collective 90 planes, which would make up the most recent lot of F-35 production. His own basis for the claim appears to be from the fact that he started meeting with defense contractors in late December of last year, ostensibly in the hopes of negotiating a price reduction for the planes.
But, as is typically the case for these sorts of of things, it turns out Trump had nothing to do with it. At all. As the Post notes, the head of the F-35 program at the Pentagon announced a cost reduction of six to seven percent per plane on December 20th, days before Trump’s team actually started meeting with the defense industry.
If you do the math on that, a “six to seven percent” cost reduction for the most recent F-35 production lot would amount to—get this—approximately $600 million. Specifically, it would result in a cost reduction of “$590 million to $630 million.”
And better yet, even though the price reduction was announced in December, it turns out it had been planned for years, because the F-35 was always designed to get cheaper as the program advanced, as Aviation Week’s Lara Seligman pointed out on Twitter. It turns out that when you build more of something, each individual unit gets cheaper to produce.
Of course none of this fixes any of the underlying problems of the F-35. But it’s a great plane now, though, so I wouldn’t worry about it too much.