A proposed end to the production of the Lockheed Martin F-22A fifth-generation fighter has raised concerns among U.S. allies in the Middle East, Raptor fan Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) said today.
“They are very concerned about the discontinuance of . . . aircraft that would have the ability to go into any territory where ((there are)) surface-to-air missiles that will take F-15s or F-16s out of the air on a fairly regular basis,” Chambliss said during a conference call with reporters early this afternoon.
Chambliss is at the tail end of a trip to the Middle East, where he said the possible curtailment of Raptor buys was among the topics of discussion. The congressional delegation -- led by Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) -- visited Egypt, Israel, Jordan, United Arab Emirates, Iraq and Afghanistan. All of the countries save for Iraq and Afghanistan have Lockheed F-16s or Boeing F-15s in their air forces. Israel flies both fourth-generation fighters.
The Republican senator's comments come one week after Defense Secretary Robert Gates said his fiscal year 2010 budget plan calls for ending F-22A production at 187 aircraft, much to the chagrin of Chambliss. Raptors are assembled by Lockheed in Marietta, GA.
“I think this decision was not ((thought)) through from the standpoint of anything than other than being purely budget-driven,” he said.
Today, Air Force Secretary Michael Donley and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz penned a letter in the Washington Post claiming they did originally request 60 F-22As beyond the current cap of 183 aircraft, but withdrew that request at the eleventh hour of internal Pentagon budget deliberations. The Pentagon requested its last four F-22As in an emergency warfighting supplemental last week.
Chambliss also said Donley told him several times over the past several months that he would push Defense Secretary Robert Gates for more Raptors.
The senator also criticized Gates' budget proposal because, he said, “it basically says . . . we're committed to fighting a back-alley war, we're committed to fighting a war strictly against terrorists and we're basically giving up the ability to fight a conventional war.”
-- Marcus Weisgerber