The US Senate voted decisively on 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 US$680 billion defense spending bill voted 58-40 to cut US$1.75 billion 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“I reject the notion that we have to waste billions of taxpayer dollars on outdated and unnecessary defense projects to keep this nation secure,” said the president, who had threatened to veto the bill if the monies were included.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 bill 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, Democratic aides said.
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” toward reining in defense spending.