The U.S. Senate voted Tuesday to end funding for the most sophisticated U.S. fighter jet, supporting President Barack Obama on one of the most controversial issues to come before the Congress since he took office six months ago.
President Obama had threatened to veto his own defense budget if the Congress added $1.75 billion to produce more F-22 Raptor aircraft. But he did not have to do that, as the Senate voted down the funding 58 to 40.
The F-22 is the most sophisticated jet fighter in the world and the U.S. Air Force will complete the original plan to field 187 of them. But on the advice of Defense Secretary Robert Gates and senior military leaders, President Obama decided that no more are needed for national defense. Some members of Congress disagree, and want to build more of the planes. Many also acknowledge they are concerned about job losses at factories in their districts that produce parts for the plane.
Just after the Senate vote, President Obama thanked the members for their support. His comments reflected what other officials have said - that ending the F-22 program is just one part of the effort to shift the focus of U.S. defenses away from what they see as the relatively remote possibility of a war with a major power and toward the types of smaller-scale conflicts of recent years.
"At a time when we're fighting two wars and facing a serious deficit, this would have been an inexcusable waste of money. Every dollar of waste in our defense budget is a dollar we can't spend to support our troops or prepare for future threats or protect the American people," he said.
Although there was considerable congressional opposition to President Obama's plan among Democrats and Republicans, he also had supporters in both parties. Among them were the Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Democrat Carl Levin, and the committee's senior Republican, John McCain - the president's opponent in last year's election.
The F-22 is what experts call an "air superiority" fighter, designed to defeat enemy jets in mid-air battles. It has not been involved in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The military is already shifting to a newer, slightly less sophisticated aircraft, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, designed more for attacking targets on the ground. The F-35 will be used by the U.S. Air Force and also by the Navy to fly off of aircraft carriers. It will also be sold to allied countries.
Secretary Gates said that as production of the F-35 is ramped up during the next few years, far more jobs will be added in the U.S. aerospace industry than will be lost with the ending of the F-22 program.