By Gillian Rich
March 14, 2019 - Energy Secretary and former Air Force pilot Rick Perry compared Lockheed Martin's (LMT) F-35 stealth fighter to coal.
During a press conference at CERAWeek by IHS Markit, he was asked if the federal government would give financial assistance to keep coal-fired and nuclear power plants from closing.
Perry replied that America needs an to have a "stable foundation of electric power that is uninterruptible."
While natural gas is cheaper, coal isn't vulnerable to supply interruptions during a natural disaster or terror attack the way natural gas is.
"We can live in this country for some period of time on the cheap, if you will, relative to the contingency plan," said Perry, who flew Lockheed C-130 cargo planes in the Air Force.
"Instead of an F-35 — instead let's just use these ... older aircraft. Was the money we spent to keep our deterrent worth it? Is the money to keep a baseload of electricity worth it? It's a good discussion for America to have."
New Vs. Old Technology
Coal fueled the Industrial Revolution some 200 years ago, and proponents say it's the backbone of power production. But the older energy source is being pushed out for cleaner and cheaper fuels like natural gas and renewables.
Meanwhile, the F-35 is the most expensive weapons program in the world, with an acquisition price tag of about $400 billion. But it will serve as the backbone of America's future fighter fleet and is set to replace older non-stealthy fourth-generation jets.
Perry's coal comments come at an interesting time, as the Pentagon is also looking backward at older technology in fighters as well. In its latest budget request, the Air Force asked for eight Boeing (BA) F-15X fourth-generation fighters.
While coal industry proponents push to keep coal-fired power plants alive to secure the "baseload" of America's energy needs, concerns about the F-35's reliability and readiness have kept older aircraft on the radar.