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Lockheed Martin CEO tells Trump the cost of F-35 will be ‘significantly’ lower

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Lockheed Martin Chief Executive Marillyn Hewson discusses her meeting with President-elect Donald Trump. (Video: The Washington Post)

Emerging from a meeting with President-elect Donald Trump at Trump Tower in New York on Friday, Lockheed Martin chief executive Marillyn Hewson told reporters that the Bethesda, Md.-based defense giant is close to a new contract deal that would cut the cost of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program and also create jobs.

“We had the opportunity to talk to [Trump] about the F-35 program, and I certainly share his views that we need to get the best capability to our men and women in uniform and we have to get it at the lowest possible price,” Hewson said. “So I’m glad I had the opportunity to tell him that we are close to a deal that will bring the cost down significantly from the previous lot of aircraft to the next lot of aircraft and moreover it’s going to bring a lot of jobs to the United States.”

She went on to say that the company would create 1,800 jobs related to the program in Fort Worth as part of the new contract deal. Lockheed Martin estimates the program accounts for 38,900 jobs in Texas, and the plane’s supply chain touches 45 states. Lockheed shares climbed nearly 1 percent on the news.

“I also had the opportunity to give him some ideas on things we think we can do to continue to drive the cost down on the F-35 program, so it was a great meeting,” Hewson said.

In recent months, the president-elect has not been shy about taking to social media to criticize or heap praise on individual companies and military programs. A Dec. 6 tweet bashed Chicago-based Boeing for what he referred to as the “out of control” cost of the Air Force One presidential airplane. Weeks later he turned in Boeing’s favor at the expense of Lockheed, tweeting that he had asked the company to “price out a comparable F-18 Super Hornet” because of the F-35’s high costs.

He also briefly brought up the F-35 in a Wednesday news conference intended to clarify his business conflicts, saying he would “do some big things” with the program and find a way to trim costs and improve the plane.

Voices on both sides of the political aisle criticized the F-35 program’s cost long before Trump took up the issue. Each plane costs more than $100 million, though Lockheed expects the price to fall as the program matures. The 15-year-old program has been beset by delays, and the fighter has never flown in combat.

Still, Trump’s pick for defense secretary, James N. Mattis, told lawmakers the president-elect remains a supporter of program.

“Many of our allies have bet their air superiority on the F-35 program, and it bonds us tightly together with them,” he said during a hearing on his nomination this week. “The president-elect has talked about the cost of [the F-35], but he has in no way shown a lack of support for the program. He just wants the best bang for the buck.”

Abby Phillip contributed to this report.