Congress rallies to support F-22 extension

By Stephen Trimble

Hundreds of US legislators pushed President Barack Obama in his first week in office to approve funds to stretch Lockheed Martin F-22 production by another year.

Lockheed is under contract to deliver 183 of the Raptor combat aircraft up to early 2011. Congress has authorised the US Department of Defense to spend $500 million for long-lead parts for another 20 aircraft, but critical DoD leaders approved spending just $143 million on parts to build only four.

The action sets up a dramatic early decision for the Obama administration, which includes the previous administration's defence secretary, Bob Gates.

Congress has also required Obama's new administration to make a decision before 1 March on whether to recertificate the $62 billion F-22 programme for another year of full-rate production.

A letter to Obama signed by 44 senators, including Georgia's Saxby Chambliss and Washington state's Patty Murray, warns of lay-offs if the F-22 line is shutdown.

Lockheed executives, however, have previously said that F-22 assembly workers in Marietta, Georgia, would still be needed, as the company is projecting a ramp-up of activity for the C-130J and C-5M transport programmes at the same site.

A statement by Representative Norm Dicks, also of Washington state, makes a slightly different economic point. After investing more than $60 billion to develop and produce the first 183 Raptors, he said, shutting down a "model" production line would be a waste of the taxpayer's investment in the programme.

For his part, Obama has revealed little of his thoughts or strategy for the military's acquisition budget.

Within hours of his swearing-in ceremony on 20 January, however, a new defence policy paper appeared on the White House web site. This says the Obama administration will "preserve our unparalleled air-power capabilities to deter and defeat any conventional competitors, swiftly respond to crises across the globe and support our ground forces".

The paper omits a specific reference to the F-22, but describes the Boeing C-17 and planned KC-X tanker as "essential systems" that require "greater investment".

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