A tweet from Donald Trump contributed to a tumble in military stocks, and left even some Vermont Democrats finding common ground with the Republican president-elect.
The remarks had to do with the F-35, the so called “next generation” fighter jet that has been controversial nationally and in the Champlain Valley.
Monday morning, Trump tweeted, “The F-35 program and cost is out of control. Billions of dollars can and will be saved on military (and other) purchases after January 20th.”
Trump offered no specifics or additional policy explanations, and political observers know it is very difficult to read too much into a single tweet.
Still, after the Trump statement, the stock price of Lockheed Martin, the manufacturer of the F-35, ended the day down about 2 percent. It regained some deeper losses from morning trading.
The comments made waves in Vermont, where eighteen of the radar-evading F-35 strike fighters will be stationed at the Air Guard Base in South Burlington starting as soon as 2019.
The F-35s will replace the Green Mountain Boys’ tired fleet of F-16s.
The Vermont National Guard does not speculate on national level policy, a spokeswoman for the Guard said Monday.
Trump’s tweet renewed longstanding criticism of the F-35, which the Government Accountability Office has called the defense department’s costliest national project. It already has approached $400-billion, and predictions are that spending will more than triple that figure over the lifetime of the program.
Vermont Congressman Peter Welch, a Democrat, said he was able to agree with Trump on the issue of spending.
“There have been a lot of cost overruns,” Rep. Welch said of the F-35 program. “If what Donald Trump is talking about is cutting down on waste and fraud and abuse in our huge spending programs and weapons programs, I’m for that. We’ve got to protect taxpayers against big cost overruns in any weapons system program.”
Welch also urged Trump to back legislation he introduced with other U.S. House members that would require an audit of Pentagon spending.
Welch noted the F-35 is already in the production and delivery stage, and said he is glad the Vermont Guard will house the planes following a decision from the Air Force.
“It’s been called a national scandal,” said Eileen Andreoli of Winooski, Vermont, an opponent of the F-35. “It’s going to have severe impacts for this area.”
Andreoli said she worries about the jets’ price, effectiveness, and impacts from noise over Vermont, including on property values.
She is now a plaintiff in a federal lawsuit asking the U.S. Department of Defense to reconsider its Vermont basing decision for the F-35.
“It’s kind of exciting to hear someone who’s not indebted to all the military industrial complex take that stance, look at it with fresh eyes; see that it’s a boondoggle,” Andreoli said of Trump’s tweet.
Regarding potential noise impacts, the Vermont Air National Guard has repeatedly said that it would work to mitigate noise levels from the new jets.
Vermont’s Republican governor-elect, Phil Scott, left cost concerns to Washington, but told reporters Monday the new fighters are critical to more than 1,000 good jobs at the Air Guard base.
“We need to upgrade our fleet,” Scott said. “I’m an advocate of the F-35. I think it’s essential for Vermont and retaining our base here in Vermont. It’s certainly important for our military.”
In response to Trump’s tweet, the office of Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, said ongoing oversight of the F-35 is a must, while describing the fighter as a “reality” that is critical to the future of the military.
David Carle, Sen. Leahy’s spokesman, continued to say of the F-35, “The fact that the Vermont Air National Guard was selected for its basing is a credit to the elite men and women serving there and who are deployed today.”