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'Just Noise:' Shanahan Denies Showing Favoritism Toward Former Employer Boeing

Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan during an event about American missile defense doctrine with President Donald Trump, Thursday, Jan. 17, 2019, at the Pentagon. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)
Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan during an event about American missile defense doctrine with President Donald Trump, Thursday, Jan. 17, 2019, at the Pentagon. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)

Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan on Tuesday downplayed reports that he has shown favoritism toward Boeing Co., where he worked for more than 30 years.

"I think that's just noise," he told reporters during his first off-camera briefing at the Pentagon.

Earlier this month, Politico reported that Shanahan has been promoting the company in meetings while heavily criticizing the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, manufactured by Boeing's direct competitor Lockheed Martin Corp.

Shanahan reportedly called the F-35 "f---ed up" and said Lockheed, unlike Boeing, "doesn't know how to run a program," according to Politico.

Responding to the report, Shanahan on Tuesday didn't dispute he's been critical of the F-35 program, which is set to cost a trillion dollars over its lifetime.

"I am biased toward performance; I am biased toward giving the taxpayer their money's worth," he said. "And the F-35 unequivocally, I can say, has a lot of opportunity for more performance."

After he was named interim secretary following former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis' departure, the Pentagon announced that Shanahan would not be involved with any future dealings with Boeing, including acquisition decisions.

Critics said Shanahan indirectly brought Boeing influence with him when he took his post at the Pentagon last year.

Boeing won a variety of contracts in 2018, including the Air Force's T-X trainer, which will replace current T-38 Talon fleets. The T-X announcement in September marked the third major contract for Boeing, the U.S.' largest aerospace firm, that year.

The Air Force that month also selected the company to build the replacement for its UH-1N Huey helicopter, at a cost of approximately $2.38 billion. In August, the Navy selected it to build its first operational carrier-based MQ-25 tanker drone.

However, those contract negotiations -- some years in the making -- had already been well underway before Shanahan took his post.

Meanwhile, Boeing's KC-46 program has been under scrutiny.

The Air Force recently accepted its first Boeing-made KC-46 Pegasus tanker delivery at McConnell Air Force Base, Kansas. However, the aircraft arrived with deficiencies that the company has agreed to fix, which may take three to four years.

-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.

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