Trump blasts F-35 fighter jet costs as Israel eagerly awaits first two jets

Arrival in Israel of its first two US-built F-35 fighter jets was heavily disrupted after bad weather delayed their take-off from Italy

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Donald Trump on Monday criticized Lockheed Martin’s F-35 fighter jet program as too expensive, the latest attack by the US President-elect on large defense contractors.

The aerospace giant’s shares dropped 4 percent after Trump’s tweet, while shares of several other defense contractors also weakened.

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

Last week, he also used Twitter to target Boeing Co for its “out of control” costs on a new fleet of Air Force One planes, urging the federal government to “Cancel order!”

Lockheed Martin’s F-35 program leader, Jeff Babione, responded by saying the company understands concerns about affordability and has invested millions of dollars to reduce the jet’s price.

Babione said Lockheed’s goal was to reduce the price of the F-35 by 70 percent from its original estimates. “We project it to be about 85 million dollars in the 2019 or 2020 time frame,” he told reporters in Israel.

A week before Trump won the Nov. 8 presidential election, the US Defense Department and Lockheed Martin concluded negotiations on their ninth contract for 90 F-35 fighter jets after 14 months of negotiations, the Pentagon said.

Lockheed won the contract, valued at up to $7.18 billion, in late November and has received an interim payment.

Trump campaigned on a promise to cut waste in federal government.

Lockheed and its key partners, Northrop Grumman Corp, Pratt & Whitney and BAE Systems, are developing and building three variants of the F-35s for the US military and 10 allies including Britain, Australia, Norway, Denmark, the Netherlands, Italy, Turkey, Israel, Japan and South Korea.

Meanwhile in Israel, the much-hyped arrival in Israel of its first two US-built F-35 fighter jets was heavily disrupted on Monday after bad weather delayed their take-off from Italy.

Weather delays in Israel

The delay - plus US President-elect Donald Trump’s complaints on Twitter - overshadowed what was a day of celebration in Israel.

The ceremony was pushed back until after nightfall at the Nevatim air base in the southern Negev desert. It was due to be attended by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US Defense Secretary Ash Carter.

Israel’s F-35 squadron is expected to be the first to be operational outside the United States and will enhance its ability to attack distant targets using stealth. The two planes will be the first of 50 fighters, each priced at around $100 million, Israel’s air force will receive.

A US squadron of the planes, which have encountered many delays and cost overruns, become operational in August. The F-35 program is the Pentagon’s largest weapons project.

Israel initially ordered 33 of the fighters but signed off on another 17 last month.

Nimrod Shefer, a retired Israeli air force major-general, told reporters the new aircraft would be a welcome addition in ever more challenging and diverse battlefield environments.

“(There are) very low- to very high-altitude missiles ... and targets that are becoming more and more difficult to detect and to destroy,” said Shefer.

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