BY ABBY LIVINGSTON –The Texas Tribune.
Lockheed Martin CEO Marillyn Hewson met with President-elect Donald Trump in New York on Friday, and emerged from the meeting promising to reduce the costs of the company’s signature fighter plane and to add 1,800 jobs at its Fort Worth facility.
That aircraft, the F-35, is a key economic driver in Fort Worth, and Trump has repeatedly threatened Lockheed’s hold on the massive fighter plane program. Despite anxiety in North Texas over the plane’s future in a Trump administration, Hewson said the Fort Worth plant was on track to add jobs.
“We had the opportunity to talk to him about the F-35 program and I certainly share his views that we need to get the best capability to our men and women in uniform and we have to get it at the lowest possible price,” Hewson told reporters after the meeting, according to a pool report. “So I’m glad I had the opportunity to tell him that we are close to a deal that will bring the cost down significantly from the previous lot of aircraft to the next lot of aircraft and moreover it’s going to bring a lot of jobs to the United States.”
“In fact we are going to increase our jobs in Fort Worth by 1,800 jobs and when you think about the supply chain across 45 states in the U.S., it’s going to be thousands and thousands of jobs,” she added. “And I also had the opportunity to give him some ideas on things we think we can do to continue to drive the cost down on the F-35 program so it was a great meeting.”
Lockheed Martin stock rose slightly Friday in the early afternoon after Hewson’s remarks. But it was a rocky week for the company – and the plane. Unsolicited, Trump implicitly threatened the plane again at a Wednesday news conference, echoing a series of tweets from December.
Trump mentioned Boeing’s F-18 plane in the same sentence as the F-35 on Wednesday, which was widely interpreted in the defense world as an implicit threat to pit the two rival planes and the companies that build them against each other.
“We’re going to do that with a lot of other industries. I’m very much involved with the generals and admirals on the airplane, the F-35, you’ve been reading about it,” he said. “And it’s way, way behind schedule and many, many billions of dollars over budget. I don’t like that.”
“We’re going to do some big things on the F-35 program, and perhaps the F-18 program,” he added. “And we’re going to get those costs way down and we’re going to get the plane to be even better. And we’re going to have some competition and it’s going to be a beautiful thing.”
The F-35, while important in Texas, is unpopular among taxpayer watchdog groups.
Should Trump be unable to resolve his differences with Lockheed, that could test the power of the Texas delegation on Capitol Hill.
House Armed Services Chairman Mac Thornberry of Clarendon backs the plane, as does fellow committee member U.S. Rep. Marc Veasey, a Fort Worth Democrat. U.S. Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz are vocal F-35 advocates as well.
But the key player in this political drama is U.S. House Rep. Kay Granger, a Fort Worth Republican who represents the Lockheed Martin plant.
Her political firepower in the matter increased this week, when she was named chairwoman of the House subcommittee that oversees Pentagon spending.
Granger called Hewson’s announcement Friday “great news.”
“I’m committed to working with the new administration, the Department of Defense and Lockheed to ensure that costs for the F-35 continue to come down so that we can increase production and continue to create important manufacturing jobs in North Texas and throughout the country,” Granger said in a statement.
Trump’s nominee for secretary of defense, retired Gen. James Mattis, praised the plane at his hearings last week.
Patrick Svitek contributed to this report.