Defense Secretary James Mattis on Thursday called for separate immediate reviews of the F-35 and Presidential Aircraft Recapitalization (PAR) programs, not long after President Donald Trump criticized the programs for excessive costs.
Both reviews will be headed by Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work. Not only does Mattis want the F-35 review to determine opportunities to significantly reduce the cost of the program while meeting requirements, he wants a parallel review to compare the Navy’s F-35C carrier variant and the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet operational capabilities. He also wants the review to assess the extent that Super Hornet improvements can be made in order to provide a competitive, cost effective, fighter aircraft alternative. The F-35 is developed by Lockheed Martin [LMT] while the Super Hornet is developed by Boeing [BA].
For PAR, which will develop a new Air Force One, Mattis wants a review of requirements with the specific objective of identifying means to substantially reduce the program’s costs while delivering needed capabilities. The review shall identify specific areas where costs can be lowered, like in autonomous operations, aircraft power generation, environmental conditioning (cooling), survivability and military/civilian communications capabilities. Mattis also wants the review to identify recommended courses of action that will substantially reduce program acquisition and sustainment costs.
DoD spokesman Capt. Jeff Davis said Friday these reviews are to inform programmatic and budgetary decisions, recognizing the critical importance of each of these acquisition programs. This, he said, 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.
Lockheed Martin said in a statement that it believes there are opportunities to continue to drive down program costs by using sound buying practices such as multi-year procurement that enable the government to purchase thousands of critical components at an economic scale. The company said with more than 200 aircraft delivered and initial operating capability declared by the Marine Corps and Air Force, it is confident that now is the right time to begin taking advantage of this and other proven smart buying strategies. Boeing spokeswoman Caroline Hutchinson said the company looks forward to working with the Pentagon and providing any information requested as it moves forward with these reviews.
Defense analyst Byron Callan of Capital Alpha Partners said Friday in a note to investors he didn’t expect the F-35 review to result in major programmatic changes. He also said he sees low odds (25 percent or less) that the Pentagon would hold a competition for Navy combat aircraft and that Boeing would win in 2017-18 to supply roughly 325 F/A-18s. Callan added that considering only the F-35C underscores there must have been no appetite by the Air Force to introduce the F/A-18 instead of the F-35A conventional variant. He thought the F-35B short takeoff and vertical landing (STOVL) variant was safe because the F/A-18E/F can’t land nor takeoff vertically.
Trump, after the election, criticized the F-35 and PAR programs for having out of control costs. The F-35 has a sordid history of cost overruns but program officials have said they believe they have costs under control.