F-22 fight continues despite Senate vote

Washington DC
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A backlash in the US Congress against the Obama administration's decision to end production of the Lockheed Martin F-22 will continue, despite a setback in the US Senate on 20 July.

Key members of the House of Representatives have vowed to support a proposal to add $369 million to the fiscal year 2010 budget to buy long-lead materials to build 12 more F-22s in FY2011. The House and Senate will meet in a conference to work out differences between the two versions of the defence authorisation bill.

Senate appropriators have also yet to take up the defence spending bill, and support for the F-22 remains strong on its defence subcommittee.

f-22-raptor-2008-oceana 
 © Lockheed Martin
The F-22 has its supporters in the US Congress

The US Air Force's Raptor has escaped two attempts to shut down or delay production within the past decade. In 2004, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld unsuccessfully attempted to stop production beyond 2008, and the Senate defeated a proposal by House appropriators in 1999 to postpone production funding by two years.

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has proposed stopping F-22 production after 187 aircraft, and President Barack Obama last week called any further acquisition an "inexcusable waste". Obama has promised to veto any bill that includes funding for more F-22s.

The administration's position received a major victory on 20 July, when Congress voted by 58:40 to strike $1.75 billion to buy seven more F-22s from the FY2010 budget. The proposal had been added to a defence authorisation bill by the Senate Armed Services Committee.

The vote was widely viewed as a major victory for two architects of a growing campaign to reform defence spending, Senators Carl Levin and John McCain.

Both have endorsed Gates's argument, also supported by the USAF's chief of staff, that 187 F-22s satisfy the US military's air superiority requirements. The Department of Defense also plans to buy more than 2,400 Lockheed F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters and hundreds of unmanned aircraft, such as the General Atomics Aeronautical Systems MQ-9 Reaper/Predator B, for search and strike missions.

The F-22's supporters, however, claim that closing the production line would needlessly sacrifice thousands of jobs and put the USAF's air superiority mission at risk.

Meanwhile, Lockheed's chief financial officer Bruce Tanner has delivered a pessimistic forecast about the F-22's export chances with Japan or any other foreign buyer. "I'm not particularly positive on the ability for us to make [an F-22 export deal] happen in the next few years," he told financial analysts on 20 July.