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​Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan identified priorities for improving the F-35 program during his Sept. 19 keynote at AFA's Air, Space & Cyber Conference in National Harbor, Md. Air Force photo by A1C Alexander Cook.

Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan on Wednesday called the F-35 a “remarkable” achievement, “critical to the high-end fight” and “our future,” but urged program managers to get its sustainment costs down and production up as quickly as possible.

Speaking at AFA's Air, Space & Cyber Conference, he expressed his “enormous respect” for F-35 leaders’ “talent and commitment” on such a complex program, but pointed out that “we’re at the front end” of F-35 service, “which means we can still set the bar high on sustainment.” He added, “The time is now. It’s tonight. It’s not next year."

Shanahan wants early and continuous improvement in combat mission capable rates, lower operating cost, and better “depot/supply chain performance.” He also said it’s “vital” that time limits be set for achieving cost and performance goals on the joint strike fighter.

With years of production looming, a stable design, “talented workforce, and stable supply chain,” conditions are right to “significantly increase productivity,” Shanahan intoned. Based on his years of building airplanes at Boeing, he said, “We have the environment” to have a “very, very long production run and achieve significant cost savings” on the F-35.

As for development, Shanahan warned that “we must improve our software development and hardware integration skills” so that the F-35 will “outpace and outperform our competitors.” He said he’s “encouraged” by efforts to “collapse software development time lines,” but “we need a similar mindset and ambition for test and certification.” No effort can be spared to ensure that the “lethality and affordability” of the F-35 continues to improve, he asserted. Further insisting, “We owe it to the Air Force to do both.”