Does President Donald Trump think the F-35 fighter is literally invisible? After researching his various statements on the 5th generation fighter, I don’t really think so. But since he keeps saying exactly that — that the F-35 cannot be seen by enemy pilots — plenty of people are curious about the answer.
Don’t worry, folks. I’m here to investigate.
I tried to dig up as many statements I could find of Trump talking about the F-35, which are listed below. On the campaign trail and as president-elect, Trump was pretty critical of the aircraft and its insane pricetag (rightly so). Then, shortly after his election, he began to talk about bringing that number down.
For most of 2017, Trump touted his supposedly single-handedly saving $700 million from the program. These statements weren’t really true, but later in the year he started to talk less about the plane’s budget and more about its “incredible” capabilities.
- Jan. 11, 2017: “I am very much involved with the generals and admirals on the F-35 you have been reading about. It is way, way over budget. I do not like that. … We’re going to do some big things on the F-35 program. And perhaps the F-18 program. We will get the plane to be even better, and we will have some competition and it will be a beautiful thing.”
- Feb. 6, 2017: “We will ensure no taxpayer dollars are wasted. I have already saved more than $700 million when I got involved in the negotiation on the F-35.”
- Feb. 9, 2017: “I guess I’m looking very much at defense and we’re negotiating a lot of contracts with airlines and a lot of other people, but when you get right down to it, the F-35 fighter is very important and all of the things we’re doing are very important.”
- Feb. 18, 2017: “On the F-35 fighter jet, we were hundreds of billions of dollars over budget, seven years late. Great plane. Lockheed Martin — a great plane. So think of it: They’re seven years late, they’re hundreds of — billions of dollars over budget. Other than that, by the way, the project is going extremely well. And I got the folks in from Lockheed Martin, who are terrific people and a terrific product, by the way. I also got Boeing in. I said, do me a favor, give me a competing offer. And now they’re competing and fighting, and we’ve gotten hundreds of millions of dollars off the price of a plane that was going to be ordered.”
- Feb. 28, 2017: “We’ve saved taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars by bringing down the price of a fantastic — and it is a fantastic — new F-35 jet fighter, and we’ll be saving billions more on contracts all across our government.”
- April 29, 2017: “The F-35 fighter jet program — it was way over budget. I’ve saved 725 million dollars plus, just by getting involved in the negotiation. We’re cutting costs, and we’re going to have a truly competitive and great country again.”
- April 29, 2017: “We are also protecting taxpayer dollars. I’ve already saved more than $725 million on a simple order of F-35 planes.”
- May 17, 2017: “I won’t talk about how much I saved you on the F-35 fighter jet. I won’t even talk about it. Or how much we’re about to save you on the Gerald Ford, the aircraft carrier. That had a little bit of an overrun problem before I got here, you know that. Still going to have an overrun problem. We came in when it was finished. But we’re going to save some good money. And when we build the new aircraft carriers they’re going to be built under budget and ahead of schedule, just remember that.”
- May 23, 2017: “Finally, the United States is proud that Israeli Air Force pilots are flying the incredible, new American F-35 planes. There is nothing in the world like them to defend their nation, and it was wonderful to see these mighty aircraft in the skies over Israel recently as you celebrated the 69th anniversary of Israel’s independence.”
- Sep. 15, 2017: “Our aviators have given America total dominance of the air and space, no matter where we fly. Now when our enemies hear the F-35 engines, when they’re roaring overhead, their souls will tremble and they will know the day of reckoning has arrived.”
- Sep. 29, 2017: “We renegotiate deals, we are renegotiating trade deals, the F-35 fighter plane. I saved hundreds of millions of dollars.”
In October, as far as I can tell, Trump made his first statement touting the plane’s supposed invisibility. Maybe an F-35 pilot earlier in the week told him, “Hey sir, this thing is incredible. We love this plane. We’re pretty much invisible on enemy radar. They can’t see us out there.” Then it became a game of telephone where the president left out some important details, I think:
- Oct. 3, 2017: “Amazing job, and amazing job. So amazing that we’re ordering hundreds of millions of dollars of new airplanes for the Air Force, especially the F-35. Do you like the F-35? I said how does it do it in fights, and how do they do in fights with the F-35. He says we do very well, you can’t see it. Literally you can’t see. It’s hard to fight a plane you can’t see right? But that’s an expensive plane you can’t see. And as you probably heard we cut the price very substantially, something other administrations would never have done, that I can tell you.”
- Nov. 7, 2017: “Currently stationed in the vicinity of this peninsula are the three largest aircraft carriers in the world loaded to the maximum with magnificent F-35 and F-18 fighter jets.”
- Nov. 23, 2017: “The Navy, I can tell you, we’re ordering ships. With the Air Force, we’re ordering a lot of planes, in particular the F-35 fighter jet, which is, you know, almost like an invisible fighter. I was asking the Air Force guys, I said, how good is this plane? They said, well, sir, you can’t see it. I said, yeah, but in a fight — you know, a fight — like I watch in the movies — they fight, they’re fighting. How good is this? They say, well, it wins every time because the enemy cannot see it. Even if it’s right next to it, it can’t see it. I said, that helps. That’s a good thing.”
- March 22, 2018: “That beautiful F-35. It’s stealth. You cannot see it. Is that correct? It better be correct, right?”
- March 23, 2018: “And we’re adding a significant number of extremely advanced vessels. $10.2 billion for 90 F-35 aircraft. That’s the most sophisticated aircraft in the world — jet fighters. Total stealth. They’re hard to find; they’re hard to see. Therefore, they’re hard to beat. It’s very tough to beat a plane when you can’t see it. It’s the most advanced in the world. $10.2 billion for 90 F-35.
- July 19, 2018: “Thank you Marilyn [Hewson], you’ve done a fantastic job. Thank you Marilyn. Hey Fred, she makes a plane you can’t see. It’s stealth. F-35. I hope you can’t see it at least, right? Great job.”
- July 23, 2018: “In case you hadn’t noticed there’s an F-35 stealth fighter outside and it’s beautiful. Parked on the South Lawn. I know it didn’t land on the South Lawn. It’s very special. Can’t see it! Where’s Lockheed? Marilyn. It’s incredible. I went to one of the pilots, I said, ‘how do you compare this with a certain other plane from the enemy?’ They said, ‘well the difference is, when we fight they can’t see our plane.’ I said, ‘well that sounds like a pretty big advantage, right?’
- July 24, 2018: “We’re ordering 147 new F-35 Lightning fighters. This is an incredible plane. It’s stealth; you can’t see it. So when I talk to even people from the other side, they’re trying to order our plane. They like the fact that you can’t see it. I said, ‘How would it do in battle with your plane?’ They say, ‘Well, we have one problem: We can’t see your plane.’ That’s a big problem. Stealth. Super Stealth. The best in the world. We make the best military equipment in the world. Also, remember this: jobs.”
For the record, the F-35 is stealth. It is, by all accounts, invisible on most enemy radar. But I can assure you that the enemy can definitely see the plane if it’s right next to it, contrary to Trump’s Nov. 2017 statement.
So does he think the F-35 is invisible to the naked eye? Probably not. He generally means that it cannot be seen on radar, which is largely accurate. That view is where I come down on this issue, at least. But the president should probably make that clearer so he doesn’t end up sounding like an idiot.