View Full Version : Congress, White House Showdown On F-22

07-19-2009, 01:15 AM
Congress, White House Showdown Looms On F-22
By william matthews
Published: 17 Jul 2009 16:34

Who's in charge, anyway? Both Congress and the White House claim to control defense spending, and they're preparing to battle it out over the F-22 stealth fighter.For weeks, lawmakers have been signaling their displeasure over U.S. President Barack Obama's decision to end production of the Raptor.The House voted in June to build 11 more, and Rep. Neil Abercrombie, D-Hawaii, declared it a matter of "Congress versus the executive in terms of who's in charge." Senior White House aides responded by warning of a presidential veto.

Meanwhile, the Senate Armed Services Committee voted for seven more F-22s. Then the House defense appropriations subcommittee ordered a full dozen.

This week, the president and his defense secretary began a counterattack.

On July 13, as the Senate prepared for a vote on the unwanted F-22s, Obama himself threatened a veto.

In a letter, the president emphasized his "strong support for terminating procurement of additional F-22 fighter aircraft."

"We do not need these planes," Obama said. "That is why I will veto any bill that supports acquisition of F-22s beyond the 187 already funded by Congress."

Nonetheless, on July 16 the House Appropriations subcommittee on defense voted to begin buying parts and materials for 12 more F-22s.

This time, Defense Secretary Robert Gates issued the warning.

"It is time to draw the line on doing defense business as usual," Gates said in a speech in Chicago. "The president has drawn that line. And that red line is a veto. And it is real."The Senate may vote as early as July 20 on an amendment by Sens. Carl Levin, D-Mich., and John McCain, R-Ariz., to strip $1.75 billion and seven F-22s from the Senate version of the $680 billion 2010 defense budget.

The House Appropriations Committee is expected to vote on the Defense Appropriations Act - with 12 F-22s - on July 22.

In remarks to the Economic Club of Chicago, Gates argued that the F-22 is the wrong weapon for the kind of wars the United States is fighting today and expects to fight in the foreseeable future.

Conceived in the 1980s, the F-22 is "a niche, silver-bullet solution," Gates said. It was designed specifically to defeat "a highly advanced enemy fighter fleet. The F-22, to be blunt, does not make much sense anyplace else in the spectrum of conflict."

Preferable Alternatives

More relevant to today's wars, "We now have unmanned aerial vehicles that can simultaneously perform intelligence, reconnaissance, and surveillance missions as well as deliver precision-guided bombs and missiles," Gates said.

Instead of F-22s, Obama's budget would buy 48 advanced UAVs that have a greater range than some manned fighters, and can loiter over targets for hours, he said.For future wars, Gates favors the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

It's 10 to 15 years newer than the F-22, he said. It carries many more weapons and is superior as an air-to-ground fighter able to destroy enemy air defenses. And it costs less than half as much as an F-22.

F-22 allies are resorting to "far-fetched" arguments to preserve the fighter program, Gates said. For example, the head of the Air National Guard wants to use them to shoot down sea-launched cruise missiles, and a retired general has suggested using them to attack Somali pirates - "who in many cases are teenagers with AK-47s," Gates said, "a job we already know is better done at much less cost by three Navy SEALs."

"Why threaten a veto and risk a confrontation over a couple billion dollars for a dozen or so planes?" Gates asked.

"Every defense dollar diverted to fund excess or unneeded capacity - whether for more F-22s or anything else - is a dollar that will be unavailable" to support troops, win the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, deter adversaries, or improve weak capabilities, he said.

Ending the F-22 program "reflects the judgment of two very different presidents, two different secretaries of defense, two chairmen of the joint chiefs of staff, and the current Air Force Secretary and Chief of Staff," Gates said.

"Where do we draw the line? If we can't get this right - what on earth can we get right?" Gates asked.Congress Disagrees

That's not the way many lawmakers see it.

Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., leader of the F-22 proponents, argued July 14 that halting F-22 production at 187, as Gates wants to do, "puts America in a 'moderate to high' risk category." Chambliss cited statements from Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz.

"Schwartz testified 243 is the right number of F-22s," Chambliss said. And the chief of the Air Combat Command contends that 381 F-22s are needed, he said.

More countries are acquiring advanced surface-to-air missiles that only the F-22 can defeat, Chambliss said.

A fleet of 243 would make 180 F-22s available for combat worldwide, enough to "quickly win major contingencies with a moderate risk," he said.

"Out of dozens of studies conducted by DoD regarding the F-22, every study except one recommended procuring at least 243 F-22s," Chambliss said.

Coming Attractions

The next step will probably be a Senate vote on the Levin-McCain amendment. Levin said that he expects a very close vote, but that the Obama veto threat helped F-22 opponents. So did the Schwartz-Donley letter and a similar letter signed by Gates and Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

The House Appropriations Committee is expected to uphold the defense subcommittee's plan to buy 12 more F-22s, an aide to a senior committee member said.

"I kind of like the way Congress is telling Gates" that he doesn't have the last word on the defense budget, the aide said