Trump ‘drains the swamp’ by appointing Lockheed Martin executive to Pentagon position

It's unclear why the president has selected someone whose company he's heavily criticized.

The U.S. Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II performs at the Paris Air Show on June 20, 2017. (CREDIT: AP Photo/Michel Euler)
The U.S. Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II performs at the Paris Air Show on June 20, 2017. (CREDIT: AP Photo/Michel Euler)

Donald Trump plans to appoint a senior executive from Lockheed Martin to the No. 3 job at the Pentagon — despite previously attacking Lockheed Martin for its “out-of-control” F-35 fighter program.

John Rood, a former Lockheed Martin senior vice president, will take up the position as undersecretary of defense for policy. Rood previously worked for arms manufacturer Raytheon Inc. and served in the National Security Council during George W. Bush’s administration, Reuters reported.

The appointment follows Trump’s vehement criticism of the F-35 jet — Lockheed’s bloated flagship fighter program — which he claimed was wildly over-budget and behind its production schedule. Lockheed initially promised that the program would cost the U.S. military around $200 billion for 2,443 planes, 1,013 of which would be delivered by the end of the 2016 fiscal year. In early 2016 the program’s price tag was estimated to be around $400 billion; only 179 were delivered that year.

In the run-up to his inauguration, Trump repeatedly criticized the program. On December 12, he tweeted that the program was “out of control” and that “billions of dollars” would be saved once he was in office. Then on December 22, in an attempt to up the pressure on Lockheed Martin, Trump claimed that, because of the F-35’s hefty price tag, he had asked Boeing “to price out a comparable F-18 Super Hornet!”

The Hornet’s original design is nearly four decades old.

Prices on the F-35 have dropped slightly in the last year, and are scheduled to shrink as production and technical faults are ironed out. In February Lockheed Martin sold the Pentagon 90 new F-35s for $8.5 billion, which amounted to $700 million in savings.

Naturally, Trump tried to claim that he was personally responsible for the price drop.

“They [Lockheed Martin] were having a lot of difficulty,” he said in January. “There was no movement and I was able to get $600 million approximately off those planes.”

Trump seemed to conveniently ignore the fact that Lockheed had been working on cost-reduction efforts with Defense officials for some time. “Bottom line: Trump appears to be taking credit for years of work by the Pentagon and Lockheed,” Aviation Week’s Lara Seligman wrote. In a statement to Politico in February, Loren Thompson, a consultant who works frequently with Pentagon contractors, added, “This would’ve happened if Hillary Clinton had been elected president.”

Other Republican leaders have also slammed Lockheed Martin’s woeful production performance on the F-35, which makes Rood’s sudden appointment all the more questionable. “It has been both a scandal and a tragedy with respect to cost, schedule and performance,” Sen. John McCain said in April last year.

In total, the entire project is slated to cost more than $1.5 trillion — enough to give every American $4,500, or wipe out all student loan debt. It’s a staggering number, and raises the question of why Trump, who campaigned on “draining the swamp”, is willing to give one of the senior executives responsible for the program the third most important job in the Pentagon.

However there is a general feeling within Congress that, at this point, the F-35 is “too big to fail.” Lockheed’s general manager has also said the company is committed to bringing down the price of the aircraft and using the program to create jobs.

“We are substantially bringing the cost of the aircraft down,” he said. “At the same time the F-35 program will continue to add thousands of additional jobs to the US economy as we increase production year over year.”