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Donald Trump’s F-35 call, overheard by rival CEO, threatens chaos in system

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Donald Trump’s ascension to president of the United States has created more than its share of chaos, both in Washington D.C. and across the country.

Bloomberg Politics reports on one such muddled event – a demonstration that Trump, quite possibly, is a leader of the gang that simply can’t shoot straight.

Days before inauguration, President-elect Trump placed two calls to the Pentagon. He spoke with Lieutenant General Chris Bogdan, who manages the F-35 program, the nation’s biggest weapons project, which is built by Lockheed Martin.

Of course, unsurprisingly in retrospect, Trump made those calls within listening range of Dennis Muilenburg, CEO of Boeing Co., Lockheed’s chief rival. Muilenburg was in Trump’s New York office for a meeting; he caught part of the second call.

On the campaign trail, Trump blasted the $379 billion F-35 program, calling it “out of control.” Boeing, obligingly, suggests that they can provide an alternative with its Super Hornet fighter.

After the phone calls with Trump, Bloomberg says that Bogdan put his notes down in two memos Jan. 10 and 18 – titled “phone conversations with President-elect” – each labeled “For Official Use Only.”

Bogdan noted Trump’s questions about the capabilities of the Super Hornet, the Boeing product to compete with Lockheed’s F-35C. The memos were distributed to about a dozen people, Bloomberg reports.

By speaking directly to a program manager, questioning a government contract signed more than a decade and a half ago, Trump threatens to upset the entire F-35 program.

“When a president ignores the chain of command by going directly to a program manager, it creates chaos in the system,” said analyst Loren Thompson of the Arlington, Virginia-based Lexington Institute. Thompson has tracked the F-35 program since Lockheed beat Boeing in winning the contract in October 2001. She also serves as consultant to Lockheed.

“Behavior that looks decisive in the business world can unhinge a military organization that depends on order and discipline,” Thompson told Bloomberg.

Making matters worse, Trump failed to comprehend (perhaps willingly?) that comparing the F-35 and Super Hornet is like apples and oranges; the F-35 is designed with significantly superior radar, communications and sensor capabilities. The Super Hornet would need a massive, and expensive, retooling to truly compete.

In addition, to keep costs down, the F-35 has been aggressively marketed to U.S. allies worldwide; several countries have already picked up contracts for maintenance and production.

So, the F-35 is not just a “plane” that can be bartered, but a complex weapon system and network of partnerships and agreements, many of which established long before Trump entered the White House – and will remain long after he leaves.

But an offhand comment, and overheard phone call, could put all that in jeopardy.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including,,, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.

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