Trump suggests F/A-18 to compete with F-35 Joint Strike Fighter

12 January 2017
The F-35C, pictured, is planned to soon join the navy's Hornet-series aircraft. Source: US Navy

President-elect Donald Trump suggested there could be 'competition' for the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter programme, which he criticised for its cost and delays.

"I'm very much involved with the generals and admirals on the airplane, the F-35," which is "way, way behind schedule and many, many billions of dollars over budget - I don't like that," Trump said during an 11 January media event. He was not asked about the F-35, the Pentagon's largest ever acquisition effort, and rather made the comment before taking questions.

"We're going to do some big things on the F-35 programme and perhaps the [Boeing F/A-18 Hornet] programme, and we're going to get those costs way down and we're going to get the plane to be even better, and we're going to have some competition," Trump said.

It is unclear if he would intend to use the F/A-18 as a potential replacement or a supplement for the F-35.

The US Navy (USN) has appeared to harbour the most reservations about the F-35 programme, and the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet could serve as a far cheaper, though notionally less capable, replacement for the navy's F-35C carrier variant requirement.

Outgoing secretary of the navy Ray Mabus told reporters during a 11 January breakfast meeting that, although he is critical of joint programmes such as the Lightning II, the F-35C is important in part because it would enable the navy to operate multiple types of combat aircraft, meaning more resilience in case of an issue with one type. The navy now only operates the Hornet-series as a carrier-based fighter.

However, the US Marine Corps is buying the F-35B short take-off and vertical landing aircraft to replace its ageing fleet of McDonnell Douglas AV-8B Harrier II combat aircraft, and there are no current alternatives.

A reduction in the overall F-35 procurement programme would likely drive up per-unit costs of the remaining aircraft.

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