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Cost of F-35 program ‘out of control,‘ says Trump

With first of Israel’s jets en route, president-elect vows to save ‘billions‘ on military, other purchases after January 20

This file photo taken on July 12, 2016 shows the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II taking part in a flying display at the Farnborough Airshow, south west of London. (AFP Photo/Adrian Dennis)
This file photo taken on July 12, 2016 shows the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II taking part in a flying display at the Farnborough Airshow, south west of London. (AFP Photo/Adrian Dennis)

US President-elect Donald Trump on Monday blasted the F-35 stealth fighter, saying the price tag was too high for the aircraft, reportedly the most expensive military weapon systems in history.

“The F-35 program and cost is out of control. Billions of dollars can and will be saved on military (and other) purchases after January 20th,” he tweeted.

Trump aired his view as Defense Secretary Ash Carter was in Israel to celebrate delivery of the country’s first two of the Lockheed Martin fighters. The jets’ arrival was delayed for much of the day by inclement weather in Italy.

Lockheed Martin, whose stock dropped by over four percent after Trump made his comment, vowed to answer the president-elect’s questions about the cost of the F-35, calling the planes “great value” for the United States.

“It’s an amazing program,” Jeff Babione, Lockheed’s program manager for the F-35s, told journalists in Israel. “It’s great value and I look forward to any questions that the President-elect may have.”

Members of Congress have also criticized the Pentagon program for testing problems, delays and cost overruns.

The US aerospace company has a $1.5 trillion contract through 2070 for the latest generation of the fighter jets, at a cost of about $100 million each.

Israel has agreed to buy 50 of the state-of-the-art jets from Lockheed Martin. The pilots’ helmets alone cost some $400,000 each.

International buyers include Britain, South Korea, Israel, Italy, Australia, Canada, Turkey and Japan. The US Air Force declared the fighter “battle ready” in August.

Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said Monday that the fighter jets “present another component in maintaining air superiority in our region” and expressed gratitude to Carter, who was welcomed with a military honor guard at a Tel Aviv army base.

The deputy commander of the Nevatim Air Force base in southern Israel said the new fighters would give Israel an upper hand over its neighbors for years to come.

“We are going to be very strong for a long time, having these airplanes. And Israel has to be strong in this region for its existence,” said Col. Asaf, who could be identified only by his first name in line with military regulations. “It’s a message for everybody that Israel will keep on holding the high-end technology in this area.”

The purchase of the F-35 elevates the entire Israeli air force to a higher level, the colonel said, adding that four Israeli pilots have been trained to fly the planes and that more will be taught in the future.

The entrance to the Nevatim Air Force Base in southern Israel on May 12, 2016. (Judah Ari Gross/Times of Israel)
The entrance to the Nevatim Air Force Base in southern Israel on May 12, 2016. (Judah Ari Gross/Times of Israel)

“This specific airplane is going to be a very good one for the next decades,” he said.

In recent years, Israel has reportedly carried out long-range airstrikes as far away as Sudan, and is believed to have struck Hezbollah-bound weapons shipments in neighboring Syria.

Israel has also hinted in the past at making plans to strike Iran, some 1,000 kilometers (625 miles) away, if the Islamic Republic presses forward with its nuclear program. The threat of Israeli action in Iran has dropped since last year’s nuclear accord.

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