New life for the F-22 Raptor

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Faced with the potential of massive job losses and under heavy lobbying pressure earlier this year, the powerful House Armed Services Committee fired a shot across the bow of Defense Secretary Robert Gates' budget decision to shutter one of the nation's most costly fighter jet programs. In a narrow 31-30 vote on Wednesday, the committee authorized spending for 12 new F-22 Raptors. These new planes, if approved by additional congressional panels, would keep the program alive and move it above the 187-plane limit Gates announced in April.

Lockheed Martin, the lead contractor making the F-22, spent almost $6.5 million lobbying Congress and the executive branch in the first three months of 2009 in the run up to Gates’ April announcement to cut the program.

“The military advice that I got was that there is no military requirement for numbers of F-22s beyond the 187,” Gates said.

Weeks after Gates’ announcement, a top Lockheed official said in a conference call with investors that the company stopped lobbying for the F-22. Lobbying disclosures for April, May and June won’t be out until July 20.

The mammoth defense contractor’s spending on first-quarter lobbying efforts came almost exclusively from its in-house lobbyists. Lockheed employs numerous lobbyists to work on the defense budget, including on the F-22. One of them is recently-hired Gabrielle Carruth, a former staffer for House Defense Appropriations Chairman John P. Murtha of Pennsylvania. Murtha’s subcommittee is one congressional battleground among many for the F-22 and other weapon systems now targeted for spending cuts or termination by Gates and President Obama.

An argument to save jobs has been favored by proponents of the F-22 and may get a boost from a law enacted last month law that was a focus of Lockheed’s lobbying efforts. The new defense acquisition reform law contains a provision by Georgia Republican Senator Saxby Chambliss — a fierce backer of the F-22, which is made by Lockheed in his state — and Democratic Senator Patty Murray of Washington that requires the Pentagon to consider how decisions to terminate programs will affect the military industrial base. In other words, how it will affect jobs and companies.

The F-22 is the most expensive jet fighter ever built. When the program's research and development costs are factored in, each plane costs more than $300 million; without those costs, each plane costs about $140 million.

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