F-22 Funds Approved in Wee-Hours Vote
By william matthews
Published: 17 Jun 2009 17:04 Print | Email
It hasn't flown in combat yet, but the F-22 stealth fighter prevailed in a life-or-death battle in an early-morning vote June 17 by the House Armed Services Committee.
A vote early June 17 by the U.S. House Armed Services Committee means that the Pentagon will pay for work to begin in 12 more F-22 jets, even though Defense Secretary Robert Gates wants the program to end. (SENIOR AIRMAN ZACHARY WOLF / U.S. AIR FORCE) After more than 16 hours of squabbling over the 2010 defense budget, weary committee members voted 31-30 at 2:30 a.m. to keep the F-22 program alive by making a $369 million down payment on 12 more planes.
U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates had intended to end F-22 production at 187 fighters, but House lawmakers overruled him.
The $369 million would buy advance procurement parts to begin production on a dozen new fighters. Ultimately, the planes would cost about $2.8 billion.
The advance procurement money would be taken from funds budgeted for Energy Department cleanups at nuclear weapons sites, a House aide said.
Although it is the Air Force's most advanced and most expensive fighter, the F-22 has never been flown in combat, a point Gates has stressed repeatedly in appearances before Congress.
When he announced April 6 that he wanted to end F-22 production, Gates said, "For me, it was not a close call. … The military advice that I got was that there is no military requirement for numbers of F-22s beyond the 187."
In the past, the Air Force has said it needed 381 F-22s. More recently it lowered the number to 243 until Gates put a 187-plane cap on the program.
But the fighter is popular in Congress, where it is praised as providing the Air Force with a high-tech advantage over potential foes, and is prized for creating jobs. Plane maker Lockheed has emphasized that the F-22 program employees 25,000 workers directly and another 90,000 in companies that produce F-22 parts in 44 states.
The amendment to save the F-22 was introduced by Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah.
"We would liked to have funded a full buy of 12 aircraft," an aide to Bishop said. But Armed Services Committee Chairman Rep. Ike Skelton prohibited amendments that would add to the overall cost of the defense budget.
Bishop was able to shift $369 million for the F-22s from defense environmental cleanups at sites that are projected to be ahead of schedule or are at risk of not being able to spend money allocated for 2010, the aide said.
It's enough to keep the F-22 production line from shutting down, but Bishop and others on the committee believe the Air Force needs more than 12 additional F-22s, he said.
While the Armed Services Committee was saving future F-22s, the full House approved spending $600 million to buy the final four planes that Gates wants. Money for those planes is included in a $106 billion "emergency supplemental" bill used to pay for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Language in that bill prohibits using the F-22 money to shut down the F-22 production line, and it permits the Defense Department to consider building a less capable version of the F-22 for sale overseas.
The war-funding bill thwarts Gates' efforts to end another aircraft program, the C-17 cargo plane.
Gates said the 205 C-17s that are already in the fleet or under construction are enough, and he included no money in the 2010 defense budget for additional C-17s. But the House and Senate added $2.7 billion to war-funding bill to buy eight C-17s and seven smaller C-130J cargo planes.
The additional C-17s are "pure pork," said Christopher Hellman, a defense budget analyst for the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation. Buying more C-17s "can only be characterized as a jobs program."
And C-17 maker Boeing has done just that. In February the company boasted that C-17 production sustained 30,000 jobs in 43 states, with concentrations in California, Texas, Missouri and Connecticut.