WASHINGTON – In a political victory for the Obama administration and a surprising defeat for some lawmakers in both parties, the Senate voted Tuesday to halt further production of the Air Force’s F-22 Raptor fighter jets.
The 58-40 vote was on an amendment to the $680 billion defense authorization bill to strip the $1.75 billion set aside for the construction of seven more of the controversial fighter jets.
The F-22 – which has not been used in Iraq or Afghanistan – has come under particular scrutiny for its price tag; the Pentagon has invested an estimated $65 billion in the F-22 program since it began, and each aircraft costs an estimated $44,000 per hour to operate.
If the Senate’s move is sustained in the House-Senate conference version of the bill, F-22 production would cease at 187 planes.
In April, Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced plans to invest more defense funds in intelligence and personnel, while shifting money away from big weapons systems like the F-22.
As Tuesday’s vote approached, Gates criticized the status quo of defense spending, suggesting the purchase of additional F-22s would prevent more useful purchases.
President Barack Obama lobbied intensely against funding the F-22s, threatening what would have been his first presidential veto.
The administration plans to shift defense funding to the single-engine F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, which would also be available to the Navy and Marine Corps and which Gates said would be superior to the F-22 in combat.
A statement issued by the Pentagon said Gates understood the vote was “difficult” for many lawmakers, but that he believes “the Pentagon cannot continue with business as usual when it comes to the F-22 or any other program in excess of our needs.”
But proponents of the F-22 argue that the twin-engine, missile-eluding Raptor fighter jet is important for homeland defense. The aircraft was originally designed to counter a potential Soviet threat, and some now suggest China and Russia are developing aircraft that could compete with the F-22.
The fighter jets are manufactured by Lockheed Martin Corp. at a plant in Marietta, Ga. According to the company, 25,000 people are directly employed in building the F-22, and an additional 70,000 have indirect links.
Boeing has been a significant subcontractor on the project. The company builds the F-22’s wings and aft fuselage in Seattle, employing more than 1,000 people.