Months of sparring over the Lockheed Martin F-22's future took a bizarre twist when a key vote in the US Senate on 15 July was delayed by at least a week because of a scheduling conflict over an unrelated "hate crimes" bill.

Majority Leader Sen Harry Reid bumped the F-22 vote off the legislative diary to attach a hate crimes amendment to the defence authorisation bill, where the controversial measure could be shielded from a more focused debate.

The last-minute change demoralised senators Carl Levin and John McCain, who have rallied a growing band of colleagues seeking to stop F-22 production after Lockheed delivers the 187th aircraft in 2011.

 The future of F-22 production has been delayed

But the two senators vowed to continue seeking to restore President Barack Obama's plan - backed by a rare veto threat - to shut down F-22 production. Their amendment proposes to overturn the Senate armed services committee, which voted last month to authorise an extra $1.75 billion for seven more F-22s.

If the Levin-McCain amendment succeeds, the vote could have a strong influence on both appropriations committees for the Senate and House of Representatives, which are due to take up the matter next.

The Obama administration continues to exert its full power to block F-22 funding. On 13 July, the White House reissued a threat to veto the defence authorisation bill if more F-22s are added to the budget.

The F-22's supporters had the advantage on 13 July, despite the demand from a Democratic White House and the defections of key Republicans, such as McCain - the party's presidential nominee last year. McCain acknowledged in a speech on the Senate floor that his side did not have enough votes to overcome support for the F-22.

But the Levin-McCain amendment seemed to pick up support over the following 24 hours before Reid decided to postpone the F-22 vote.

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and several other administration officials called senators personally to secure their support or change their minds, says the Pentagon. It adds that Gates will "continue to make calls as necessary to make his case to those who are willing to listen".

Source: Flight International