Did Trump Tweets Just Lower the Cost of Air Force One?

Air Force One arrived at Offutt Air Force Base, Neb., on Aug. 13, 2016, where President Barack Obama was greeted by base leadership as-well-as state and local officials. (U.S. Air Force/Josh Plueger)Air Force One arrived at Offutt Air Force Base, Neb., on Aug. 13, 2016, where President Barack Obama was greeted by base leadership as-well-as state and local officials. (U.S. Air Force/Josh Plueger)

Did President-elect Donald Trump’s tweetstorm criticizing the projected costs of the future Air Force One planes just lower the price tag of the program?

A member of his transition team seems to think so.

“Boeing CEO tells President-elect @realDonaldTrump it will build new Air Force One for less than originally-quoted $4b,” Anthony Scaramucci, a member of Trump’s transition team’s executive committee tweeted on Wednesday. “Big win for taxpayers.”

The message came after Trump met with Boeing Chief Executive Officer Dennis Muilenburg at the president-elect’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida.

Indeed, that apparently was the gist of the conversation.

Here’s what Muilenburg told reporters as he was leaving the estate: “We’re going to get it done for less than that, and we’re committed to working together to make sure that happens,” he said,” referring to the Air Force One program, according to Bloomberg News. “I was able to give the president-elect my personal commitment on behalf of the Boeing Company.”

This obviously raises a number of questions.

First off, exactly how fungible are these estimated acquisition costs? Is there that much padding built in to the initial price tag that, at the snap of a finger — or a tweet — the expenses can just fall to levels considered more reasonable to an incoming president?

In a tweet earlier this month and seemingly out of the blue, Trump bashed the Air Force One program, saying, “Boeing is building a brand new 747 Air Force One for future presidents, but costs are out of control, more than $4 billion. Cancel order!”

Boeing rushed out a response, saying it has only received $170 million so far in development funding to study the technical requirements of the future Air Force One aircraft, specially designed versions of the 747 airliner designed to withstand missile attacks and electromagnetic pulses.

But Trump’s figure was more or less accurate.

Todd Harrison, director of the aerospace security project and defense budget analysis at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a think tank in Washington, D.C., at the time said the proposed cost for the program includes $2.9 billion in funding for research, development, test and evaluation through fiscal 2021, as well as about $1 billion in funding for procurement.

Air Force leaders also have vowed support for the program, which calls for developing two or possibly three new Air Force One planes. Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James on Tuesday said of the aircraft, “It’s a flying White House, with ultra-high levels of security and communications and defensive protection measures built-in,” she said.

Trump has since also targeted the Lockheed Martin Corp.-made F-35 Joint Strike Fighter — the Pentagon’s most expensive acquisition program estimated to cost nearly $400 billion to procure 2,457 of the single-engine fighters.

Also Monday, the president-elect met with a number of high-ranking Pentagon officials, according to Bloomberg’s Tony Capaccio.

Air Force Lt. Gen. Christopher Bogdan, who manages the F-35 program, on Monday directly responded to Trump’s criticism when he told reporters, “This program is not out of control.”

Trump also met with Lockheed Chief Executive Officer Marillyn Hewson and, according to Time magazine’s Zeke Miller, said of the planned get-together, “We’re just beginning, it’s a dance.”

In a statement, Hewson said, “I had a productive meeting with President-elect Trump this afternoon. I appreciated the opportunity to discuss the importance of the F-35 program and the progress we’ve made in bringing the costs down. The F-35 is a critical program to our national security, and I conveyed our continued commitment to delivering an affordable aircraft to our U.S. military and our allies.”

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Brendan McGarry
Brendan McGarry is the managing editor of Military.com. He can be reached at brendan.mcgarry@military.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Brendan_McGarry.