In an unusual show of inter-service unity, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and senior field commanders lined up unanimously behind the F-22 jet fighter yesterday, urging senators to restore money to the defense budget cut last week by the House.

"Lessons over the last 50 years have taught us that air superiority is the prerequisite for successful military operations," the Joint Chiefs wrote in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.). "Since the addition of air power to the tools of warfare, no major military campaign has succeeded without air superiority."

The letter was signed by Army Gen. Henry H. Shelton, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Air Force Gen. Joseph Ralston, the vice chairman; and Gen. Michael Ryan, the Air Force chief of staff. Those three could be expected to back the F-22 since it is Clinton administration policy and a top Air Force priority.

But the letter was also signed by Gen. Eric Shinseki, the Army chief of staff; Adm. Jay Johnson, the chief of naval operations; and Gen. J.L. Jones, commandant of the Marine Corps--all commanders with their own spending priorities that will be competing for budget money with costly programs such as the F-22.

The officers framed their argument in terms of the military challenges of 2015, when the F-22, if it is built, will be available in significant numbers. The Pentagon plans to buy 339 F-22s from Lockheed Martin Corp.