The Second Coming of the F-22

Thought to be dead on arrival, the Air Force F-22 Raptor (rapture better fits its story) has been resurrected by Congress. The Senate Armed Services Committee voted 13 to 11 to greenlight $1.75 billion for production of another seven birds. In a similar move, the House contribution to F-22 coffers was $369 million. Though not a large amount, the gauntlet has been thrown.

You may recall that Defense Secretary (and occasional superhero) Robert M. Gates killed the program, halting the F-22s at 187 aircraft. Gates called the House action a “big problem.” (He may have passed out at news from the Senate.) The White House also is displeased and has threatened to veto the 2010 Appropriations Bill if the F-22 provisions remain.

Though defense lobbyists (and the Air Force — think Jumbotron) would be the usual suspects, it has been reported the F-22 was resurrected by World War II hero and Hawaii Sen. Daniel Inouye, who asked Air Force officials about the possibility of an F-22 suitable for export to places like Japan. (The F-22 has been on the “Do Not Sell” List, and Japan and others have been salivating, waiting for an opportunity to get a Rapture squadron of their own.)

The jet had been full of promise when conceived in the early 1980s. The Air Force saw a bright future with 700-plus birds, but developmental costs pushed the price per plane to $361 million, according to the Government Accountability Office.  Cost aside, Gates has pointed out that the F-22 has not flown in support of operations in Iraq or Afghanistan, and says the Air Force needs to reorient its gear toward counterinsurgency operations (Cost + obsolescence = 187).

Back on the Hill, Congress is saying, “Not so fast, Bob,” maintaining that the F-22 is viable, noting possible threats from China.  At the same time, Lockheed lobbyists have been telling lawmakers the Rapture program makes or breaks more than 25,000 jobs spread out over 44 states (smart).

The Senate bill also calls for a study into an exportable Rapture. (Cha-ching.) If the birds make it in the final bill, what will the commander in chief do? Lawmakers say “No way he’ll veto.”

What say you?

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