DAYTON, Ohio While various Defense Department officials have expressed skepticism that the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter can achieve a $25,000 cost per flying hour target by 2025, the department’s assistant secretary of defense for sustainment remains committed to that goal, he said June 20.

“For the A model … no one’s told me yet that I can’t get there,” said Robert McMahon during a media roundtable Thursday at the Air Force’s Life Cycle Industry Days conference here. “Is that a stretch goal? Might be. …“I’m unwilling to come off $25,000 cost per flying hour because no one showed that that’s physically impossible to get to.”

Lockheed Martin-build F-35. Photo: Lockheed Martin

During a House Armed Services Committee (CAPE) hearing in May, the DoD’s Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation (CAPE) director, Robert Daigle, testified that the Pentagon’s “stretch goal” of “25 by 25” did not seem achievable. In the same hearing, F-35 Program Executive Officer (PEO) Vice Adm. Mat Winter said his office was targeting $36,000 per flying hour by 2025 (Defense Daily, May 2).

Newly appointed Air Force Materiel Command Commander Gen. Arnold Bunch told reporters Thursday at the conference that he could not commit to the “25 by 25” target, coming straight from his experience as the military deputy for acquisition at the Pentagon.

McMahon acknowledged that those leaders are analyzing the data that has been presented to them and providing their best assessment based on that data. He said he draws on his experience as an Air Force logistics officer to inform his optimism on a more rapid timeline.

“I grew up as a loggie, and I know what the art of the possible is if we do things correctly and we partner,” he said.

The Defense Department had not given the Lockheed Martin [LMT]-built F-35’s sustainment the right amount of attention in prior years, McMahon noted.

“The reality is that for a number of years, we were so focused on production and on development that sustainment took a back seat,” McMahon said. But under the leadership of Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment Ellen Lord and F-35 PEO Vice Adm. Mat Winter, “we have put more focus on sustainment in the last two years than I think we had in the entire history of the weapons system before that,” he said

McMahon said he sits in a meeting every 45 days with members of Lockheed Martin, F-35 engine manufacturer Pratt & Whitney [UTX] and the Joint Program Office to make sure progress remains on schedule.

That group is following nine lines of effort that would address critical sustainment issues, he noted. He lauded the fact that the Defense Department was able to accelerate the standup of an F-35 depot six years ahead of schedule.

The department also signed off on a new life cycle sustainment plan for the Joint Strike Fighter on Jan. 31, McMahon said, adding that he completed a review of the second wave of the plan of attack on June 19.

“The difference of what I saw yesterday versus what I saw when I signed this [plan] is significant,” he said. “It’s because we’re creating the teams [and] they’re focused on specific lines of effort that have direct and immediate impact on both cost and availability.”