Trump claims F-35s flew over Japan undetected: 'Pretty cool, right?'

Story highlights

  • Trump's statement on F-35s in Japan don't jibe with facts
  • US President also criticizes new aircraft carrier program

(CNN)US President Donald Trump thinks the F-35 fighter is "pretty cool," but he seems to be a bit confused over what the newest US warplanes have been up to in Japan.

In a White House interview with Time magazine published Thursday, Trump said almost three dozen of the stealth jets flew over Japan undetected during a visit to Tokyo by US Defense Secretary James Mattis in February.
"They had 35 of them fly over Japan ... and they were not detected by the radar. They flew over and everyone said where the hell did they come from? That's stealth. It's pretty cool, right," Time quotes Trump as saying in the interview.
    "Thirty-five of them flying at a high speed, low, and they were not detected. They flew right over the top of the deal, nobody knew they were coming. Pretty cool, right?" the US commander-in-chief is quoted as saying.
    Pretty cool? Might have been if it had actually happened, but this seems highly unlikely.
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    First up, only 10 of the 16 US Marine Corps stealth fighters in the first-ever overseas deployment of F-35s are reported to have arrived in the country.
    And the arrival of those first jets -- weeks before Mattis' visit -- didn't surprise anyone as the Marines announced their deployment well beforehand.
    And when those jets arrived they were not screaming over Japan like Maverick and Goose buzzing the tower in "Top Gun" -- they landed in an orderly manner at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni.
    Could there have been other F-35s in Japan at that time? Well, that would have been top-secret as the only other overseas deployment of the jets was a small number of Air Force F-35s to Europe in April.

    F-35 cost savings claimed

    Trump has also been touting how he claims he's cut costs in the F-35 program which, at $400 billion, is the most expensive weapons program in history.
    He told Time he's saving Japan, one of the Pentagon's international partners in the program, $100 million on its F-35s. And that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was grateful.
    "When [Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō] Abe came from Japan, first thing he said to me when I first met him. He walked out. 'Thank you, thank you.' I said, 'For what?' F-35. You bought, you saved us 100 million dollars. Because they're part of the group that buy the 90 planes. It's a lot. We get, they get, different allies," Trump is quoted as saying.
    In an interview with the Associated Press last month, Trump said he was directly responsible for helping save $700 million on a February order of 90 F-35s. He said in that interview that Japan was getting "10 or 12" F-35s.
    According to the website of F-35 manufacturer Lockheed Martin, Japan is buying 42 F-35s. Four of those will come from the Lockheed Martin's Fort Worth, Texas, plant and the remainder will be assembled in Japan by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries.
    Japan's Defense Ministry on Friday confirmed the Lockheed Martin numbers, with the first of the four US-built F-35s turned over to Tokyo in December.
    Trump told the AP in April he'd brought savings of "billions and billions of dollars, many billions of dollars over the course of — it's between 2,500 and 3,000 planes will be the final order."
    At the same time, however, the Government Accountability Office concluded that additional flight testing will delay full production of the aircraft, which is scheduled for April 2019, by a year and could cost the Department of Defense more than a billion dollars more than what was budgeted in 2011 when the program was restructured.