US Senate cuts additional F-22 funds: Victory for Obama
Jul 21, 2009, 22:36 GMT
Washington - The US Senate voted Tuesday to strip funding for the purchase of additional F-22 fighter jets, handing President Barack Obama a victory in his effort gain control over Pentagon spending.
The 58-40 vote removed 1.75 billion dollars from a 680-billion- dollar defence policy bill Obama had threatened to veto if the money was not taken out.
'This would have been an inexcusable waste of money,' Obama said shortly after the vote.
The vote for now caps production of the F-22 Raptors at the 187 already planned. But Obama still has a fight in the House of Representatives, where lawmakers have added 369 million dollars as a downpayment on 12 more F-22s. The Senate appropriations panel has yet to vote on the issue.
Critics charge that at 150 million dollars each, the F-22 comes with too high a price tag and is riddled with cost overruns, and drains money from other priorities like providing troops with the tools needed to fight the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The White House and Defence Secretary Robert Gates lobbied hard in the last weeks to kill the funding as they try to reshape the Pentagon's budget priorities and get rid of weapons systems regarded as a legacy of the Cold War and too expensive.
But they face fierce resistance from lawmakers worried about cutting jobs during a recession, especially those whose states face job losses if production of the Lockheed Martin-built F-22 ends. The Senate vote cut across party lines.
Lockheed Martin says there are 25,000 jobs nationwide directly dependent on the F-22 and thousands of others in support of the programme.
'We put that many jobs at risk, not because the industry is failing, not because it is a bad piece of aircraft, but because the secretary of defense and the administration have decided this program isn't worthy of our support,' said Senator Christopher Dodd. The F-22's engines are built in Dodd's home state of Connecticut.
Gates in a speech last week said it would be irresponsible to keep building the aircraft when there are more pressing military needs, and argues cutbacks on the F-22 will allow the Pentagon to preserve jobs by shifting funds to the less advanced but more cost efficient F-35.
The F-22 was conceptualized during the Cold War and is billed as the most advanced fighter jet in the world, possessing radar-evading stealth technology and superior air-to-air combat capabilities.
'This is a difficult decision, but one with which we're comfortable,' said Senator Carl Levin, the Democratic who co- sponsored the amendment to remove the funding with Republican Senator John McCain.
The F-22 backers charge halting production is short-sighted at time when the Russians and Chinese are stepping up their efforts to build more advanced fighter jets. But its opponents say it has little use in counterinsurgency fights like the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The F-22 has not been deployed to either conflict.
The F-35 Lightning II is a multi-role fighter that comes at about half the cost of the F-22, but has yet to go into full production. It's estimated to cost about 80 million dollars each.