Havelock’s mayor said Monday that president-elect Donald Trump is welcome to come visit Cherry Point and discover for himself how valuable the F-35 program is to the nation’s defense as well as the economy of North Carolina.

HAVELOCK | Havelock’s mayor said Monday that president-elect Donald Trump is welcome to come visit Cherry Point and discover for himself how valuable the F-35 program is to the nation’s defense as well as the economy of North Carolina.
Mayor Will Lewis, who is also president of the base lobby group Allies for Cherry Point’s Tomorrow, was wearing both hats at a press conference to answer questions in response to a tweet by the president-elect Monday morning in which he called the F-35 program and costs “out of control.”
Trump furthermore said that “billions of dollars will be saved on military and other purchases after January 20,” leaving many to question the future of the F-35 program.
Lockheed Martin is the maker of the jet. The defense contractor’s stock dropped several points after Trump’s tweet, but rebounded later in the day to make a modest gain.
“He is welcome to come down here and check out Cherry Point,” said Lewis. “I am sure that they would be more than happy to have him. We would be happy to host him in Havelock any time he wants to talk about the F-35, to talk about the program and talk about the future of Havelock and how he can meet some of the people who will be impacted by the coming F-35.
“The F-35 is critical to our nation’s security. Beyond that, it’s also critical to Havelock and to Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point because we’re going to have 94 of them housed right here at Cherry Point, and Marine Corps aviation and its successes define our successes right here in Havelock. As a result, we are always in tune with the F-35 program.”
Fleet Readiness Center East workers have been doing modifications on the short takeoff and vertical landing version of the fifth-generation, stealth jet since 2014. The base isn’t scheduled to see its first operational squadrons until 2022.
The F-35 program is the costliest in the history of the defense department and has been often criticized for cost overruns.
“We’ve watched costs on it for years,” Lewis said. “We know that it is an expensive aircraft compared to other fourth-generation aircraft. I think eventually the costs will pretty much be the same because as production continues, costs will continue to drop. Since the first production run, aircraft right now cost 60 percent less than they did when we first started.”
The Marine Corps plans to purchase 300 F-35Bs. The current price for one F-35B is $134 million, but as the rate of production increases, the price-per-jet is expected to decrease, according to information from joint program office in 2015. Lockheed Martin is currently under negotiation with the Defense Department over the price of the next batch of aircraft.
The planes that the F-35B is to replace, the F/A-18 Hornet, costs $65 million, and the AV-8B Harrier is $41 million.
“If the F-35s are not produced, we would run the risk of not getting them at our base,” Lewis said. “Plus, when you decrease the level of production, just by economy of scale, we are going to have less aircraft that can be produced at a regular cost.
“We hope that he does find savings within all of our programs and that if he happens to find some within the F-35, then we will be able to produce more airplanes and those will be stationed at Cherry Point. Instead of 94, we’ll have 194.”
Lewis acknowledged that there have been capability concerns with the F-35, but that it continues to show its worth in training and exercises.
“I don’t think that there is any doubt that the future of our national security hinges on the F-35 program,” said Lewis. “Making it more efficient could absolutely be a positive step, but we need to ensure that we don’t decrease our level of productivity.”
Lewis said he thinks Trump “is trying to prove that he believes in taxpayer responsibility just like we do. I didn’t see it as him not backing the military or not backing the program. I saw it more of him trying to be responsible.”
Lewis said that in the last year the state’s Republican U.S. senators, Richard Burr and Thom Tillis, have visited Havelock and voiced support for the F-35. Lt. Gen. Jon Davis, commandant for aviation for the Marine Corps, recently said that the F-35B is what the Marine Corps needs for future success.
Cherry Point contributes $2.2 billion to the state’s economy and regionally employs workers from counties across Eastern North Carolina. Parts for the F-35 are manufactured across the state.
“If the FRC (East) changed or the base went away, not only would we be devastated, but you are talking about $2.2 billion that leaves the entire state of North Carolina,” said Lewis. “We know that a reduction of those aircraft and a change in our basing structure or reduction of forces would be devastating for Havelock.”
Lewis said Trump’s tweet shouldn’t have any effect on the long-term effort to gain military facilities in support of the F-35 at Cherry Point.
“Our support of the Marine Corps and our support of the program shouldn’t change based on that,” said Lewis.