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Lockheed Martin CEO Commits to Driving Down F-35 Fighter's Costs

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An F-35B from Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron 501 , flies near its base a MCAS Beaufort South Carolina.   Lockheed Martin

Donald Trump's tweets targeting Boeing and Lockheed Martin won't lower defense costs much but may give the president-elect the upper hand in procurement talks, two military analysts told CNBC on Friday.

"I had a productive meeting with President-elect Trump this afternoon", Hewson said in the statement. We haven't actually started the build of the airplane yet, but once we finalize the requirements and make sure that it's affordable we'll launch on building the aircraft.

Government contracts analyst Kevin Brancato notes that the Pentagon has set aside $3.2 billion for the life-cycle of the two planes, from research and development to construction and acquisition.

Aerospace industry expert Richard Aboulafia called Trump's criticism "complete madness".

"I think so", Muilenburg responded after meeting Trump when asked if their conversation would lead to a cost decrease.

Lockheed Martin was expected to manufacture more than 2,400 F-35 planes for the U.S. Navy, Army, and Air Force by 2037.

Still, those strengths do not completely outmatch Trump's ability to tweet from a bully pulpit.

The exact impact of Trump's tweet wasn't immediately clear.

The F-18 is an older-generation aircraft that lacks the stealth capabilities of the F-35.

It's true the Boeing jets are significantly cheaper; Canada opted for Super Hornets after balking at the F-35's price tag.

Boeing is pushing for conformal fuel tanks, an advanced cockpit system and a new engine for the Super Hornet that the company says would add even more range and warfighting capability. Moreover, although F-18 is less expensive compared to F-35, the federal government will never compromise on the security of the nation for the sake of expenses. Certainly it could not meet the US Marine Corps need for vertical lift. Trump told reporters he wanted to cut the F-35 program's costs.

The F-18 was designed as both a fighter and attack aircraft, capable of carrying a wide variety of bombs and missiles, supplemented by the 20-mm M61 Vulcan cannon.

The Navy's current plan is to rely on the F-35 during the opening days of a conflict "because it is invisible to enemy radar, and then shift over to use of Super Hornets", Thompson said. Defense analysts estimate the F/ A-18 costs $70 million to $80 million.

CNBC's Steve Liesman weighed in and suggested that replacing a Lockheed Martin fighter jet with one from a competing fighter jet maker isn't the same as replacing a "Chevrolet with a Chrysler". More than 3,000 planes will eventually be built for the USA and 11 other countries. The country will still consider the F-35 as a long-term replacement in its fleet of fighter jets.

The tweet shook the political and defense contracting worlds, as Trump challenged the aviation giant and threatened to pull a contract responsible for hundreds of American jobs. "How persistently and comprehensively the new administration will reinforce this message remains unclear".

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