Trump, With Praise for Boeing CEO, Hints at Big Fighter-Jet Deal

  • Military plane touted as alternative to Lockheed Martin’s F-35
  • President attends rollout of ‘beautiful’ 787-10 Dreamliner

Trump Looking at Big Boeing F-18 Super Hornet Order

President Donald Trump suggested that a larger purchase of Boeing Co.’s F/A-18 Super Hornet may be in the offing, using a tour of the planemaker’s South Carolina factory to send a message to rival defense contractor Lockheed Martin Corp.

“We are looking seriously at a big order,” Trump said Friday of the fighter jet, with another Boeing plane, the newest 787 Dreamliner, looming in the background. “I think we may get there.”

The Defense Department is studying the capabilities of the Super Hornet, designed in the 1990s, against those of Lockheed’s F-35, which is still in development even as it’s being produced. Trump indicated that price differences between the two fighters could sway the Pentagon to replace some orders for the F-35, which the president has criticized for cost overruns and delays, with more purchases of the Boeing jet.

“If the price doesn’t come down, we would,” Trump told reporters. “The F-18’s a great plane and now put a stealth component onto it.”

Boeing rose 1.1 percent to $172.71 at the close in New York, the second-largest gain on the Dow Jones Industrial Average. The shares have climbed 11 percent this year, doubling the advance of the Dow Jones and the S&P 500 Index.

Pentagon Review

Reporters earlier spotted White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus holding a brochure for the F/A-18 XT, a proposed Super Hornet upgrade that could serve as a stand-in as Lockheed ramps up production of the F-35, the Pentagon’s costliest weapons system. Part of the challenge for Lockheed was to create technologies to serve the very different needs of the U.S. Air Force, Marines and Navy.

Defense Secretary James Mattis ordered a review of whether upgraded Super Hornets could provide a less costly alternative for the Navy’s version of the the F-35, which isn’t due to become operational until 2019.

Mattis directed the deputy defense secretary to oversee a study comparing the two fighters and “the extent that F/A-18E/F improvements (an advanced Super Hornet) can be made in order to provide a competitive, cost effective, fighter aircraft alternative.”

New Dreamliner

The first Boeing-designed jetliner built outside the Seattle area, the 787-10 is also a test of a strategy to diversify the company’s manufacturing base. Boeing has steadily expanded in South Carolina since it acquired the campus from a struggling 787 supplier in 2009, investing more than $2 billion in land, tooling, factory and office buildings. A drive to unionize workers failed earlier this week after staunch opposition from the company.

On hand at the factory rollout of the first 787-10, Trump extolled the “beautiful” carbon-composite jet. The president praised Boeing Chief Executive Officer Dennis Muilenburg, saying “Dennis is a very, very tough negotiator” and patting him on the arm after the manufacturer’s leader introduced him at a rally of workers.

Trump’s relationship with the largest U.S. exporter has warmed in recent weeks after a strained start. On the campaign trail, Trump attacked a planned center to paint Boeing 737s in China and in December took to Twitter to attack the planemaker’s Air Force One contract as too costly.

The broadside gave Muilenburg an opening to begin a dialog with the new president. In recent weeks, Trump has emerged as a booster for the Super Hornet and voiced support for the export credit agency sometimes nicknamed the “Bank of Boeing.” While a White House official said he would make an announcement about the lender Friday, the president didn’t mention it.

There are risks underlying a close association with a powerful and unorthodox political figure, said Richard Aboulafia, an aerospace analyst with Teal Group. “You’re embracing a much greater and unwelcome government intrusion in industrial policy,” he said.

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