Senate cancels funds for F-22

Raptor production is likely to end in 2011.Some 2,000 workers in Marietta hope to keep their jobs with the F-35.

WASHINGTON —- Despite an impassioned debate led by U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss, the Senate sided with the White House and the Defense Department to end production of the F-22 Raptor fighter jet assembled in Marietta.

The 58-40 vote that crossed party lines cancels $1.75 billion in funding for seven more of the planes that Chambliss, a Georgia Republican, had worked into a $680 billion defense spending bill. The government had ordered 187 planes and said it needed no more.

With the vote, production at Lockheed Martin Corp.'s Marietta plant and other factories that make parts of the plane is expected to end in 2011.

The 2,000 employees who work on the plane in Marietta won't necessarily lose their jobs. Lockheed has plans to move production of other planes to the plant —- including parts of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter that's designed to succeed the F-22.

Chambliss and fellow Georgia Sen. Johnny Isakson both have said Lockheed has assured them there probably won't be major job losses there.

Cobb County Commission Chairman Sam Olens wasn't so sure. "Clearly it will cost us jobs," he said.

It's not certain if Lockheed would lose 1,000 or 1,500 jobs, but the hit wouldn't occur until 2012, Olens said. "The bigger picture is that we are literally deciding that air superiority is no longer a priority," he said.

"This plane is vital to 21st century American military superiority," Isakson said in a statement. "I'm extremely disappointed the Senate did not recognize how essential the continued production of this aircraft is to our national security as well as to the many local economies and thousands of workers that will be devastated as a result of these cuts."

But some of the loudest outcries against continued F-22 production came from Republican Sen. John McCain, who sided with President Barack Obama and Defense Secretary Robert Gates. The Arizona senator and former presidential candidate held up the F-22 as a symbol of how defense contracts have become influenced more by parochial politics and industry lobbyists than by military need.

"This was a vote that far transcended even $1.75 billion," McCain said. "It really means there's a chance that we can change the way we do business here in Washington."

At the White House, Obama, who had promised to veto any defense bill that included more funding for the F-22, echoed McCain's assertion.

"At a time when we're fighting two wars and facing a serious deficit, this would have been an inexcusable waste of money," Obama said. "Every dollar of waste in our defense budget is a dollar we can't spend to support our troops or prepare for future threats or protect the American people."

The planes are among the most expensive ever built. Under a multi-year contract, they cost the government $140 million each to build and more than $19,000 an hour to fly. The price of the seven planes Chambliss wanted would have been even higher —-$250 million each —- because they would have been outside of Lockheed's planned production schedule, according to Chambliss' office.

No one doubts the F-22's air superiority, and no other country has anything that can match them. But since they are built specifically for air combat dogfights, none have been needed in either Iraq or Afghanistan.

There's still a chance more of the planes will be built even after 2011. The U.S. House has approved funding for 12 more of the jets, and the difference with the Senate must be reconciled. Also, Lockheed is lobbying to get government approval to sell versions of the plane to U.S. allies such as Japan and Australia.

Chambliss said he would explore a compromise to get the Air Force to buy some additional planes, but acknowledged the fight was probably over.

"That was a pretty strong vote," he said. Chambliss chalked up his defeat to intense and personal last-minute lobbying by Obama and Gates.

Gates announced in April that he wanted to cancel the program and redirect the money toward more pressing defense needs, such as more Army troops, helicopter training and unmanned aerial vehicles that are needed in Iraq and Afghanistan.