Houston & Peach

F-22 production not quite dead yet, despite senate vote

Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., was handed a bitter and surprisingly lopsided legislative defeat Tuesday. The 58-40 vote that will end production of the F-22 confounded even the sponsors of the amendment. Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., who temporarily withdrew the amendment last week, told Congressional Quarterly this week that he expected “a close vote.”

But as defense spending bills go, it wasn’t close. And Chambliss fired off a curt news release shortly after the vote to lament that fact.

“We’ve been fighting a headwind from the White House and the Pentagon leadership for weeks now,” Chambliss said. “For whatever reason, the White House expended a lot of political capital to seek to terminate the F-22 program.”

Chambliss and allies of the F-22 are now left with few options to keep the production lines going. Final assembly of the F-22 takes place in Marietta.

This month, the House approved its own defense spending bill that authorized 12 more F-22s, beyond the 187 already authorized. After the Senate approves its spending bill, the two chambers must reconcile the two versions. It is possible, though unlikely, that the F-22 could be revived during that process.

If Chambliss fails to sell the idea of more F-22s to the Pentagon, there is another country that has extended its hand. Perhaps reading the writing on the wall, Chambliss last week endorsed a proposal to produce more F-22s and sell them to Japan. He reiterated that position Tuesday. “We will continue to pursue the potential for foreign military sales of a scaled-down version of the F-22,” he said.

Chambliss’ motivations for keeping the F-22 manufacturing plants running past 2011 are obvious. The plant in Marietta employs several thousand of his constituents, and he had plenty of reminders of that fact. Lockheed Martin and Boeing had orchestrated a joint advertising campaign that flaunted both the F-22’s tactical capabilities and the jobs its production lines provided. Full-page advertisements appeared in many national newspapers and magazines with the tagline, “95,000 employed, 300 million (people) protected.”

The advertising campaign extended to a Web site, PreserveRaptorJobs.com; the site was immediately disabled after the lunchtime vote. Bob Feller, spokesman for Lockheed Martin, said through an e-mail that “we will support the U.S. Government’s final decision on the F-22 program.”

The question remains, is the government’s decision final?

To contact writer Thomas L. Day, call 744-4489.

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