The government could decrease the price of Air Force One if the incoming administration decides to lower the aircraft’s requirements, according to top Pentagon procurement official.
On Tuesday, Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenberg met with president-elect Donald Trump to discuss the Air Force One replacement programme. Muilenberg told reporters Boeing would leverage commercial certification practices to drive down costs. Boeing made a similar promise to apply commercial practices to the US Air Force’s KC-46 tanker programme, which increased the cost of KC-46 development.
Following his final speech as undersecretary of defence for acquisition, technology and logistics, Frank Kendall told FlightGlobal that the government could get a lower price for the presidential aircraft by lowering the requirements.
“Air Force One is a militarized 747 basically,” he says. “The big driver on the cost of Air Force One is the requirements and it’s all the things we put onto the airplane and all the modifications we have to do. There’s clearly a trade space there and we can get a lower price if we lower the requirements.”
At the end of the day, it’s the White House’s decision about which modifications will go on the aircraft, he adds. The president’s direct involvement is part of what separates the Air Force One recapitalisation from the tanker replacement. Boeing is working with greater volume on the KC-46 programme as well. The US Air Force will procure 179 Boeing KC-46 tankers by 2028, versus two of the 747-200-derived VC-25As for the president.
While Kendall touted his acquisition reform accomplishments in his last speech, the new president-elect has sent tremors through the US defense aviation community with just a few tweets fired since November. As Boeing and Lockheed stock took a tumble following those tweets, top defense industry representatives have pledged to lower costs. When asked about Trump’s call to weapons systems suppliers to reduce costs via Twitter, the outgoing secretary demurred.
“I think it’s interesting,” Kendall says. “I’m aware of some of those conversations and look, I am like everybody else waiting to see how this plays out.”
Kendall, a veteran of the Pentagon’s highest defense acquisition circles since the end of the Cold War, also expressed in his speech his fears over Trump’s penchant for picking people outside of Washington.
“What scares me more than that is we’ll bring in outsiders who have no idea how the Pentagon works and the defense industry works,” he says. “I’m a little nervous that will happen with this administration.”