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  • Donald Trump put himself on a collision course with the F-35 fighter program, after threatening to cancel it, a move that would be warmly greeted in the Kremlin. (Photo collage: MPG)

    Donald Trump put himself on a collision course with the F-35 fighter program, after threatening to cancel it, a move that would be warmly greeted in the Kremlin. (Photo collage: MPG)

    Donald Trump threatened to cancel the much-maligned F-35 Lightning II Strike Fighter program yesterday, a move that would hurt the nation’s defense and provide a much needed boost to Russia, which would have to develop expensive new counter-measures if the plane goes into combat service.

    Trump’s unexpected criticism of the program, purportedly because of its cost, came out of left field and sent the plane maker’s stock plummeting yesterday by almost 2 percent.

    Lockheed Martin, which is building the F-35 for the Air Force, the Marines and Navy, is the second defense manufacturer hurt by Trump’s loose comments on social media and elsewhere.

    Trump temporarily sent Boeing’s stock into a tailspin a few days earlier after he criticized the government’s plans to build two new Air Force One 747 jumbo jets to replace aging planes in the current fleet. Again, he cited cost as a factor.

    But Trump’s ire appeared to be in retaliation to comments made by Boeing’s chief executive Dennis Muilenburg. In a Chicago Tribune article, he argued that free trade is a critical to the U.S. economy.

    A big part of Boeing’s business is the sale of jet aircraft overseas to countries like China and Iran both of which just placed big orders for new airliners. As many as 10,000 jobs may be tied to the deal, he said.

    Trump’s attack on Lockheed Martin was more undifferentiated. The plane has been a big-ticket item for the Pentagon, and the cost of each jet is high by traditional standards. Although costs will come down as production ramps up. Israel has just placed an order for 50 of the jets.

    One factor driving up the cost of the airplane is the number of ground-breaking, fifth-generation technologies, including stealth, that it incorporates. It’s far more sophisticated than anything Russia has at the moment.

    To counter the plane’s capabilities, Russia would have to spend tens of millions of dollars on new defensive radar and weapons at a time when it’s economy is suffering under Obama administration sanctions over its annexation of Crimea and proxy war in the Ukraine.

    Russian aviation technology is also at least a decade behind the United States’ latest designs.

    If the F-35 program were to be canceled, it would relieve pressure on Russian President Vladimr Putin and could also embolden his own military exploits. Putin reportedly wants to reassert Russian hegemony over it’s neighbors, including the Baltic States.

    Trump has openly embraced Putin and his campaign was aided by Russian-backed hacks of the Democratic National Convention and Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager, according to the CIA.

    What makes the F-35 Lightning II so special is its ground attack and air defense capability. Two versions of the craft can also take-off and land vertically, a capability long sought by the Navy and Marines.

    The F-35 is expected to be four times more effective than older fighters in air-to-air combat, eight times more effective in air-to-ground combat, and three times more effective in reconnaissance and Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses, according to Lockheed.

    It has greater range and requires less logistics support and has an almost invisible radar signature.

    At this point, almost everything Trump does has to be viewed through the prism of how it will play in Russia. Canceling the F-35 program would be warmly greeted in the Kremlin.