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    'Potentially Disruptive': Rival CEO Listened In On Trump's F-35 Call

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    When US President Donald Trump made good on his promise to negotiate the “out of control” cost of the Lockheed Martin F-35 program during the period leading up to his inauguration, Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg was sitting in the same Trump Tower office during one of the calls.

    Trump tweeted that he would ask Boeing to "price out" a comparable F/A-18 Super Hornet, even though the Super Hornet is a fourth-generation fighter and has fundamentally different capabilities than the fifth-generation F-35. Trump made a "highly unusual" call to Lt. Gen. Chris Bogdan, the F-35 program manager, on January 17, when Boeing’s Muilenburg was in the room, Bloomberg reported. The Boeing CEO "appeared caught off-guard but was able to listen in on the call, according to two people familiar with the calls, who asked to remain anonymous discussing sensitive information."

    "When a president ignores the chain of command by going directly to a program manager, it creates chaos in the system," defense analyst Loren Thompson said. Thompson, who has also consulted for Lockheed Martin, pointed out that the kinds of decisive action admired in business "can unhinge a military organization that depends on order and discipline."

    The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter contract was awarded in 2001 in a winner-take-all scenario. Hence, discussing a contract completed 16 years ago was unprecedented for a sitting president or president-elect and "potentially disruptive," according to the analyst.

    The president usually communicates with the secretary of defense directly about military programs, not with a general or one of lower rank, rendering the calls "a breach of tradition," The News & Observer pointed out. But given that the F-35 is the most expensive weapons program in history, Trump might be forgiven for defying conventional procedures to accomplish one of his campaign goals.

    On Thursday, Bogdan confirmed that Muilenburg was sitting in on Trump’s call about the F-35. Muilenburg’s audience during the calls "was not inappropriate," Bogdan noted, adding that he "would consider the calls to be very straightforward." Trump "asked a lot of very, very, very good questions," he said.  

    Being in the same room as Trump, in the Trump Tower, and seeing him take a call "is part of Trump’s casual M.O.," Mike Allen, founder of Axios, wrote Thursday morning. "We talked to people who had the surreal experience of being in his Trump Tower office, then having him interrupt to take a call about an unrelated personnel matter – sometimes very sensitive. One visitor got up to step out, and Trump motioned for him to stay. But it got so awkward that the guest stepped out anyway."

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    Tags:
    F-35, Boeing, Trump Tower, Dennis Muilenburg, Chris Bogdan, Donald Trump, United States
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