Trump criticizes F-35 jet program Montgomery is working to attract

Updated: Dec. 12, 2016 at 7:48 PM CST
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MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - President-Elect Donald Trump took to Twitter again Monday, this time to criticize the costs of a military program Montgomery is aggressively
working to attract. Trump called out the cost of the F-35 program, a fifth-generation fighter jet which will replace the F-16.

"The F-35 program and cost is out of control," Mr. Trump tweeted. "Billions of dollars can and will be saved on military (and other) purchases
after January 20th." That's the day he takes office as the 45th U.S. president.

Whether the tweet was meant to send a clear message about acquisitions and defense spending or a threat to the F-35 program, Wall Street responded swiftly. CNBC reported the market value of Lockheed Martin, the company building the jet, plunged by $4 billion in two hours. That's around $28 million per character in the president-elect's tweet.

Last week, The Montgomery Chamber of Commerce announced the city is on the short list to acquire the F-35s, which would be flown by the 187th Airlift Wing at Dannelly Field. Monday's tweet garnered the attention of many across the River Region.

"This was the first Trump tweet that caught my attention," said Anna Buckalew, Chief of Staff and Executive Vice President of the Montgomery Chamber of Commerce. "It did have an issue impacted that was something we have been working on here locally."

Buckalew has closely followed the F-35 program for years, along with defense spending, and feels this is a typical conversation between the Commander in Chief and the Pentagon.

"It's not surprising, it's just communicated differently," Buckalew said. "The F-35 program is pretty far down the runway, the President's shock at the price tag, he may be actually shocked at many price tags as he becomes Commander in Chief. You are talking about replacing an aged fleet of aircraft for the Air Force. I think when the President looks at the issue, he will realize the F-35 is an amazing piece of equipment."

Rep. Martha Roby (R-Dist 2), an instrumental member of the local congressional delegation fighting to bring the F-35 program to Montgomery, touted the possibilities during a speaking engagement on Monday.  Roby said she interpreted the tweet to mean Trump is targeting spending, not the fighter jet program.
"I don't think Donald Trump was saying was about the F-35, but more a message to the Pentagon," Roby stated. "He's saying, "Hey, when I am President of the United States, this is something that we are going to take on to ensure we don't have the cost overruns with future programs"."

Roby cited the issues and overruns on cost took place in the research and development phase with Lockheed Martin, the company that is developing the aircraft.

"That's over and done and paid for," Roby stated. "The F-35 is in production."

The jet's official Twitter account put this out Monday.

For Montgomery, the F-35 program translates to jobs. The 187th Airlift Wing represents 1400 jobs. If the F-16 is grounded without a replacement fleet, those jobs could be in jeopardy. If Montgomery is awarded the F-35 program, it could create additional jobs.

"There's great potential," Buckalew said. "If you land the F-35 program you will have expanded mission, expanded impacts to Maxwell and the guard unit."

The military will visit Montgomery in January to conduct a site visit for the F-35s, a decision on what two cities will be awarded the program will be announced in early spring.

Copyright 2016 WSFA 12 News. All rights reserved.