Washington: The US Senate voted decisively Tuesday to stop producing new F-22 stealth fighters, siding firmly with President Barack Obama in a high-stakes fight over the future of US air power.
Lawmakers debating a 680-billion-dollar defense spending bill voted 58-40 to cut 1.75 billion dollars set aside to build seven more Raptors, drawing immediate praise from the White House.
“At a time when we’re fighting two wars and facing a serious deficit, this would have been an inexcusable waste of money,” said Obama, whose aides have underlined that the Raptor has not seen action in Afghanistan or Iraq.
“I reject the notion that we have to waste billions of taxpayer dollars on outdated and unnecessary defense projects to keep this nation secure,” said the president, who had threatened to veto the bill if the monies were included.
The Senate vote came after the House of Representatives included the monies in its version of the legislation, meaning lawmakers could revive the program when they reconcile the rival versions in order to send the bill to Obama.
Vice President Joe Biden, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, and White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel lobbied senators to scrap the funding, trying to quiet concerns of lost jobs if the Lockheed Martin/Boeing-built program is frozen and underlining that the money could be better used elsewhere, according to Democratic aides.
Gates had fought to cap production at 187 F-22s, meaning only four more would be built. But many Republicans balked at the administration’s plans.
The Air Force has also long disagreed with halting production, and just last year called for a fleet of 381 fighters.
Last year Gates sacked the service’s two top leaders officially over two major nuclear-related blunders, but his decision was also largely seen as having stemmed from their position on the F-22 program.
In a statement released through a Pentagon spokesman, Gates welcomed the Tuesday vote as “an important step” towards reining in defense spending.
“Secretary Gates appreciates the careful consideration senators have given to this matter of national security and he applauds their bipartisan support,” said spokesman Geoff Morrell.
“He understands that for many members this was a very difficult vote, but he believes that the Pentagon cannot continue with business as usual.”
In 2009, the Pentagon spent 2.9 billion dollars on the planes, which cost some 200 million dollars each. Critics say the fighter, first made during the Cold War, has not been adapted to current conflicts.
Supporters say that there is a need to ensure US air superiority as China and Russia invest in fighter jets.
Some key US allies, including Japan, have long sought to acquire the F-22, which is currently subject to an export ban.