Trump decided on a whim last week that paying $4 billion for two new Boeing 747-8 planes to replace Air Force One is too high–without any evidence, of course, to support his view.
“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!” he Tweeted.
Trump’s claim was quickly fact-checked and found to be off-base.
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
— ❄️(((Tam)))❄️#Resist (@TammaraMaiden1) December 7, 2016
@realDonaldTrump Your security and travel back and forth to NYC is costing taxpayers $1M a day, its out of control! CANCEL ORDER!
— Becky Flaum (@beckyflaum) December 7, 2016
It may also have been a vindictive response to Muilenburg’s comments in favor of free trade earlier that day. His words were perceived to be a swipe at Trump’s isolationist, protectionist trade policies.
Boeing is a major exporter of airliners to countries around the world, including China and Iran. Tens of thousands of U.S. jobs depend on its overseas sales.
To soothe Trump, Muilenburg deftly played to his ego. He met with Trump Wednesday and pledged to trim the cost of two new aircraft.
“We’re going to get it done for less than that,” he said afterward, praising Trump for his excellent “business head.”
“I was able to give the president-elect my personal commitment on behalf of the Boeing Co,” he added, handing the president-elect another public relations victory.
Sure enough, showering Trump with fawning genuflection yielded yet another Tweet today. The president-elect offered Boeing the prospect of a new defense contract.
“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!” Trump tweeted.
But just as he failed to understand the Boeing’s Air Force One program, Trump apparently doesn’t understand that the F-35 and the Super Hornet aren’t comparable. They have different missions and different capabilities.
In the case of Air Force One, each plane has a base price of $380 million. The extra cost involves adding custom features that turn the aircraft into mobile command centers, according to fact-checking site Politifact.
Unlike standard models, the plane must be able to refuel while flying. They will be able to fly 7,730 nautical miles — nearly 1,000 miles more than the current planes — and will have a smaller carbon footprint, according to the company.
Plus, it will be packed with state-of-the-art communications equipment, nuclear-strike controls and a sophisticated missile defense system to avoid being shot down in the air. The extra features make up the bulk of the planes’ cost, according to military.com.
The program will cost $3.73 billion over 12 years and does not just reflect the acquisition cost as Trump implied, according to the Air Force.
Boeing, meanwhile, is building the airplanes to specifications dictated by the government. Subcontractors are supplying the expensive electronic equipment–a cost Boeing doesn’t control.
“National-security requirements, not Boeing, have been the primary driver of high costs. Experts say the costs are broadly in line considering the high-tech and security requirements of a presidential plane,” Politifact concluded.
Likewise, comparing the F-35 to the F-18 Super Hornet is like comparing a brand new Corvette to a 1957 model.
The Hornet first flew in 1978, almost 40 years ago.
While it’s proved to be a solid aircraft through several upgrades, it doesn’t come close to matching the F-35’s advanced stealth technology, vertical takeoff and landing capabilities and its ability to defeat sophisticated air defense systems.
Known as a 5th generation stealth aircraft, the F-35 can easily penetrate current Russian air defenses, and will require the U.S. adversary to spend billions of dollars to upgrade its systems.
Lt. Gen. Chris Bogdan, who is overseeing F-35 development sharply disputed Trump’s assessment of the program.
Although the plane has been plagued by mismanagement, under-performance, construction delays and cost overruns in the past, most of the problems have been worked out, he told Defense One, a military newsletter.
What’s more, Trump blasted out the Tweet even though neither he, nor his Pentagon transition team, has been briefed on the program, Bogdan said. As yet, no meeting is planned, although Bogdan said he’s working on getting one.
“I don’t think the program cost-wise is out of control, nor do I think it’s out of control schedule-wise,” the Lt. general said.
If anything, the episodes highlight how easily Trump is swayed by flattery and how he’s started making dangerously rash decisions about the nation’s defense on a whim.
He brags that he’s saving taxpayers money, but isn’t doing anyone any favors with his penny-wise, pound-foolish decisions.