House Votes to Let Allies Buy Top U.S. Fighter

The Pentagon's need for the F-22 Raptor has declined steadily since the aircraft was introduced.
The Pentagon's need for the F-22 Raptor has declined steadily since the aircraft was introduced. (By Rita King -- Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co. Via Pr Newswire)
By Renae Merle
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, July 1, 2006

The House has recommended lifting a ban on international sales of the nation's most advanced fighter, the F-22 Raptor, a potential boon to Lockheed Martin Corp. if allies such as Japan begin buying the expensive plane to upgrade their air forces.

On a voice vote after an 11-minute debate, House members on June 20 tacked onto the defense appropriations bill an amendment repealing a nine-year-old prohibition on overseas sales of the plane.

The ban was put in place to keep the Raptor's high-tech systems out of the hands of foreign governments. But with U.S. military orders for the jet lagging, members of Congress and some top staffers in the Air Force have become concerned that Bethesda-based Lockheed may shut down the plane's production line in coming years.

The $70 billion fighter program is one of Lockheed's largest, employing more than 4,500 workers in Georgia and Texas and bringing in hundreds of millions of dollars in annual revenue. The Pentagon has steadily lowered the number of F-22s it planned to purchase from the 750 it thought it needed to face off against the Soviet Union nearly 20 years ago down to 183. As with the older F-16 -- a fighter Lockheed continues to sustain through overseas sales -- foreign purchases could keep the Raptor in business.

The amendment allowing overseas sales was offered by Rep. Kay Granger (R-Tex.), whose district in Fort Worth includes a plant that makes the midsection of the aircraft, with a total of 2,640 jobs associated with the Raptor.

"I believe this provision of this bill is no longer necessary to safeguard our technology," Granger said on the floor of the House.

Lockheed executives and Air Force officials declined to comment.

Prospects of passage in the Senate, which will not take up its appropriations bill until next month, are unclear, though that chamber traditionally has been more tolerant of allowing international involvement in military programs.

Sen. John W. Warner, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, appeared willing to support foreign sales of a modified version of the Raptor.

"My own advice is that we should consider manufacturing a model of that aircraft that would meet our requirements with regard to technology transfer, a model that would be foreign sales only," Warner said in an interview. "That aircraft, even if modified for foreign sales, would be a magnificent aircraft, believe me."

He noted that the military has had to make similar accommodations for foreign sales of other U.S. aircraft, including the F-16 and F-15.

Even if the ban is lifted, any overseas sales of the plane would have to be vetted by the Departments of Defense and State under the Arms Export Control Act.

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