Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan, who is a former Boeing employee, has reportedly been extremely critical of Lockheed Martin’s F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter in private meetings, according to a report by Politico citing anonymous witnesses of several exchanges.
His alleged constant bashing of Lockheed Martin’s handling of the program and claims that Boeing would do better have raised concerns whether he is showing bias.
Shanahan, who spent 31 years at Boeing before joining the Pentagon in mid-2017, has signed an ethics agreement recusing him from weighing in on matters involving Boeing.
“But that hasn’t stopped him from praising Boeing and trashing competitors such as Lockheed Martin during internal meetings,” according to two anonymous former government officials cited by Politico.
Shanahan reportedly called the $1 trillion F-35 stealth fighter “f—ed up,” saying that Lockheed “doesn’t know how to run a program.”
“He is said to have “dumped” on the aircraft regularly, with a former Trump administration official noting that he kind of “went off” on the program last year. “He would complain about Lockheed’s timing and their inability to deliver, and from a Boeing point of view, say things like, ‘We would never do that,'” the former official revealed,” Task & Purpose reported.
In other meetings he was reportedly cited as saying that the program was “unsustainable,” complaining about the cost in particular of the stealth fighters, with separate versions built for the Navy, Marines and Air Force.
Shanahan’s bashing of the F-35 program reportedly angered some Republican senators, who had a home-district interest in it.
“He would complain about Lockheed’s timing and their inability to deliver, and from a Boeing point of view, say things like, ‘We would never do that,'” one unnamed former official said.
Shanahan’s office released a statement saying he is committed to his agreement to stay out of matters involving Boeing, after being asked for a comment.
“Under his ethics agreement, Mr. Shanahan has recused himself for the duration of his service in the Department of Defense from participating personally and substantially in matters in which the Boeing Company is a party,” his office said.
According to two anonymous officials who are still serving, Shanahan’s critics are misreading his comments and taking them out of context.
“While Shanahan regularly recounts his experience working on major programs at Boeing, he has not said the company should have won the F-35 contract.”
“He’s not talking about Boeing right now; he’s really speaking more to his experience, his leadership. His insight is, ‘I’ve seen this, I’ve done it,’” one Defense Department official said, cited by Politico.
A second anonymous source, a senior government official “who has been in the bulk of the meetings involving the F-35,” said Shanahan is not boosting Boeing.
“I don’t believe that’s the case at all. I think he’s agnostic toward Boeing at best. I think he’s extremely confident about his capability relative to sourcing and working with contractors,” this official said. “There might be overconfidence there in terms of how his commercial experience translates to defense programs. But I don’t think there’s any intent to have Boeing favored in the building.”
Ethics agreements aside, it is possibly not a bad idea for some scrutiny to be thrown the F-35 program’s direction from senior officials. The most expensive military project in history appears to be plagued by constant design flaws, malfunctions and issues, which keep breaking the cost record regularly.