The decision to buy new Boeing F-15s reflects the Pentagon’s desire to keep two American companies making fighter jets into the next decade — and not the acting defense secretary’s ties to the company, a senior defense official said Friday.
The 2020 budget request contains $1.1 billion to buy eight F-15X jets, a new variant of an aircraft the Air Force last bought nearly a decade ago. The twin-tailed plane was chosen over Lockheed’s cheaper single-engine F-16 in part to keep a second U.S.manufacturer in the tactical-jet business as the Pentagon begins exploring new technologies for a new generation of warplanes, the official said.
“One of the considerations was the diversity of the industrial base,” the official said. “If we look at something as important as the tactical aircraft industrial base and we look forward into sixth-generation [fighter] production and competition and that kind of stuff,…gaining diversity in that industrial base is going to be critical.”
The senior defense official emphasized that Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan, who formerly worked as a Boeing executive, was not involved in the decision to buy the F-15X.
“When it came to any specific platform that involved Boeing, those conversations were held strictly away from him,” the official said.
Upon entering government service in 2017, Shanahan formally recused himself from all dealings involving his former employer. But on Wednesday, the Defense Department’s inspector general confirmed that it had opened an investigation into “complaints that we recently received that Acting Secretary Shanahan allegedly took actions to promote his former employer, Boeing, and disparage its competitors, allegedly in violation of ethics rules,” an IG spokesman said. On Friday, the Pentagon released an updated ethics agreement that Shanahan signed when he became acting secretary in January.
Since Shanahan and other top Trump administration political appointees at the Pentagon have ties to the defense industry, their aides are trained to make sure the officials are not involved in decisions related to their former employers, a second senior defense official said. They were extra cautious, particularly during budget deliberations.
“We had to be very careful about it,” the second official said.
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