When it comes to military aviation, US President-Elect Donald Trump is already making waves, and not in a good way for two of America’s largest defense contractors in particular. Boeing was his first target, earlier this month, when he made this comment on twitter:
Boeing is building a brand new 747 Air Force One for future presidents, but costs are out of control, more than $4 billion. Cancel order!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 6, 2016
Voicing his displeasure with the ballooning costs of the Air Force’s Presidential Aircraft Recapitalization program, the initiative that’ll see the USAF’s aging VC-25 VIP transport aircraft (used as Air Force One), Trump took direct aim at Boeing and called out the company with a threat to cancel the order. Boeing quickly responded and later met with the President-Elect, who’ll be inaugurated in late January of next year, offering to reduce costs as much as possible on building and customizing two 747-8i airliners, the latest in their 747 “Jumbo Jet” series, as the replacement Air Force Ones.
Next up was Lockheed Martin, manufacturer of the F-35 Lightning II stealth strike fighter, the US Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps’ wonder-jet of the near future. Echoing a sentiment a lot of the F-35’s biggest detractors have repeated for years, Trump called the F-35/Joint Strike Fighter program “out of control”, especially with regards to the costs involved with the gigantic multi-national project that’s expected to run up the US Department of Defense a $1.5 trillion USD tab over the next 60 years or so.
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.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 12, 2016
As a result, Lockheed Martin’s stock took a hit and began to drop on the market. Yesterday, Lockheed Martin took another hit after Trump tweeted out the following:
Based on the tremendous cost and cost overruns of the Lockheed Martin F-35, I have asked Boeing to price-out a comparable F-18 Super Hornet!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 22, 2016
But when Trump points at the Super Hornet as being the optimal choice to hypothetically replace the F-35 wholesale, one wonders just how feasible would such an undertaking would be. In reality, not very at all.
The F-35 program and all its various subcontractors are spread across the United States in a number of varying congressional districts, pointing towards a drawn out political fight on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC., should the incoming government move to nix production entirely. Considering the number of jobs the program has created and continues to maintain, as well as the amount of money invested in it up to this point, the incoming government would be hard-pressed in any effort to make the F-35 go away altogether. Then comes the fact that there was no Plan B ever drafted in case the Joint Strike Fighter didn’t work out, nor was there any need to create one.
The Air Force’s F-16 Fighting Falcon has been steadily walking towards retirement while accruing major flying hours, both in the US and overseas on combat deployments. The Navy’s F/A-18C/D Legacy Hornets are in shambles, undergoing a complex service life extension program (SLEP), that isn’t panning out the way the Navy hoped it would. And then, there’s the Marine Corps, whose AV-8B Harrier II jumpjets have no other suitable replacement than the F-35B, the STOVL (Short TakeOff Vertical Landing) variant of the F-35 family.
Also given just how much the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps have done to integrate the F-35 into their operations setup, while ramping up pilot training regimens and investing serious time into redeveloping curriculum to better acclimate future F-35 pilots to the jet’s advanced capabilities, it seems as though Trump’s off-the-cuff statement on getting Boeing to “price-out” F/A-18E/F Super Hornets as a worthy replacement for the F-35 is more of a pipe dream than anything that could actually become a reality. Not only does the F-35 possess a number of features and gadgets never before fielded in military history, it’s also designed to fly to different mission parameters than the Super Hornet, while accomplishing its objectives in a considerably different manner, when you take into account all the technology aboard an F-35 affords its pilot. Even with the Advanced Super Hornet (ASH) package, which aims to revitalize and upgrade current-block Super Hornets with a new cockpit, avionics, etc., the aircraft still lacks certain capabilities (especially a generally stealthy build) that the F-35 comes standard with. Could the Super Hornet somehow replace the F-16 with the USAF instead of the F-35A? It’s possible, but unlikely.