Shortly before Christmas, President-elect Donald Trump tweeted that he had been in communication with Boeing to create a fighter jet that would price out the Lockheed Martin F-35. His rationale was that the F-35’s staggering costs are unnecessary, and due to a lack of competitive pricing in the field.
The F-35, despite being the most technologically advanced plane in the arsenal of America’s armed forces, is not without its flaws. Criticisms include weakness in wing strength and delays in gun fire. Despite its shortcomings, it currently has no competitors. Given Trump’s penchant for playing up his business background as a foundation for the validity of his candidacy, his intervention makes perfect sense. To Trump, the issue is market share. He is attempting to encourage a competitor to enter the market to foster competition and innovation and, ultimately, the production of a better product at a lower price tag.
Trumps meeting with both Dennis Muilenburg of Boeing and Marillyn Hewson of Lockheed Martin to discuss the rising costs of the F-35 could be seen as an attempt to to assume the role of the transformational leader (see Burns, 1978; Bass, 1995; Eisenbach, Watson, & Pillai, 1999) perhaps by inspiring a new vision. Trump seems to be aiming to get the companies to work towards a great good – lower costs for Americans when it comes to large scale military purchases. This intervention will certainly test both Boeing’s and Lockheed Martin’s ability, as organizations, to respond to external forces for change. And, it will test the transformational abilities of both CEOs as they attempt to cope with what could be perceived as a punctuation in their respective organization’s ongoing change processes.
Orchestrating a meeting between two CEOs to negotiate costs is expected behavior for a business mogul like Trump. This action is in line with how Trump is branding himself as he gears up for the Presidency, but there are problems with his intervention in the development and production of fighter jets. And, it’s not just that by trying to get one company to out price the other that he is manipulating the playing field. The most glaring issue is that President-elect Trump is claiming a power that belongs to the Pentagon, not the President.
One can hardly blame the President-elect for acting, presumably, as he was used to in his corporate role in that he saw an economic inefficiency in the F-35 and wanted to work towards eliminating it by incorporating more F-18s into the United States’ arsenal. However, the decision doesn’t fall squarely on President-elect Trump’s shoulders. Furthermore, his Presidential status doesn’t automatically give him the extensive knowledge required to authoritatively move forward with changes of this nature. This illustrates the concepts of expertise in government explored in Nikolas Rose and Peter Miller’s Political power beyond the state: problematics in government. Expertise and knowledge are sectioned off into enclosures, in which those in the know are capable of either disseminating it or hoarding it. If one were going to look at the Boeing/Lockheed Martin situation through the lens of this framework, the Pentagon is the primary enclosure of expertise for military spending, and Trump is trying to peer into it.