Don't Spend Money for More F-22s

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Saturday, July 18, 2009

F-22 FIGHTER jets have posed problems from the start. They were designed in the 1980s to combat a force of advanced Soviet fighter jets that never materialized. Decades of testing and tweaking have revealed fundamental flaws in their material and structure. They cost more than $44,000 for each hour they spend in the air -- more than their predecessor, the F-15. They have never flown over Iraq or Afghanistan. The Defense Department has said it wants to cap the force at 187 and focus on next-generation F-35s instead.

So why is Congress still trying to appropriate $1.75 billion to build more of them?

Almost from its conception, the F-22 has been "too big to fail." With subcontractors in more than 40 states and jobs in many congressional districts that depend on their continued production, even when the defense secretary has made clear that he would like to end the program, funding for F-22s still turns up in the annual defense authorization bill. In the Senate, an additional $1.75 billion for more F-22s was put into the Armed Services Committee markup of the bill, and in the House, funding for 12 additional jets has already passed.

President Obama has made his position clear: If funding for these unwanted F-22 fighter jets is included in the Defense Authorization Act, he will veto the bill. As Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has repeatedly pointed out, this money isn't appearing out of thin air. It is being carved away from programs that are necessary and used to fund something the department has explicitly said it does not want or need. As Mr. Gates put it, "A dollar for something we don't need is a dollar taken away from something we do need."

On this Mr. Obama and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) agree; Mr. McCain and Sen. Carl M. Levin (D-Mich.), Armed Services Committee chairman, co-sponsored an amendment that would remove the additional F-22 funding from the Senate bill.

Doing so would not shortchange America's military structure or industrial complex. Mr. Obama is committed to preserving American air superiority. But preserving air superiority does not mean continuing to fund a project that shows few signs that it is aiding this cause at all. And the same bill that takes funding from needed programs to fund F-22s would also impede production on the Defense Department's preferred aircraft, the F-35; it is a jet that can be used across the branches of the armed forces and whose design is more than 10 years ahead of the F-22s.

Saving jobs is a laudable goal. But continuing to support such a flawed project simply because it preserves jobs is self-defeating.


© 2009 The Washington Post Company

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