By Christopher J. Castelli / May 14, 2009 at 5:00 AM

A bit of dogfighting ensued this morning between F-22 Raptor proponent Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) and Defense Secretary Robert Gates during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing.

Chambliss, whose state is home to a Lockheed Martin facility that makes the Raptor, quibbled with Gates’ statements that the Pentagon is completing the F-22 program, not killing it. Chambliss also asserted Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz has told him privately that 243 Raptors is the service’s F-22 requirement -- and that the general will testify to that on Capitol Hill. Asserting DOD is assuming F-22s would only be required in the Pacific, Chambliss said he disagrees with that view -- and insisted the Air Force does, too.

But Gates said his decision to buy no more than 187 Raptors was based on input from the combatant commanders, who oversee military operations. He noted the F-22 is not going to be the only aircraft in the tactical air arsenal, citing Reaper unmanned drones and Joint Strike Fighters.

In the event of a hypothetical war with China, the Pentagon would have enough tactical air forces to concurrently deal with that conflict as well as other situations around the world if the entire tactical air arsenal is considered, he said.