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Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Trump’s Push to Cut Jet Costs Hits a Nerve, but His Demands Face Limitations

Boeing’s F-18 Super Hornet jet. Defense contractors are bracing for volatile dealings with Donald J. Trump over projects
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After meeting with Lockheed Martin’s chief executive on Wednesday about lowering the cost of its new F-35 fighter jet, President-electDonald J. Trump expressed confidence that Pentagon officials standing with him were “good negotiators” and could “get it done beautifully.”

Then, on Thursday, he gave the talks another jolt, posting on Twitter that he had asked Lockheed’s rival, Boeing, for a price quote on the most comparable version of its older F/A-18 Super Hornet.

And on Friday, Lockheed’s chief, Marillyn Hewson, made clear she got the message.

“I had a very good conversation with President-elect Trump this afternoon and assured him that I’ve heard his message loud and clear about reducing the cost of the F-35,” she said. “I gave him my personal commitment to drive the cost down aggressively.”

Besides the drama of his personal intervention, Mr. Trump had made it clear that he would like to squeeze Lockheed for a better deal and might try to shift some of the fighter business to Boeing if he does not get it. Rarely have presidents taken such negotiations into their own hands, and his post — along with an earlier one rapping Boeing over the cost of a new Air Force One — sent shock waves through the military industry, which is bracing for volatile dealings with Mr. Trump over projects to update nuclear weapons and build new bombers and missile submarines.

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