Washington: In the face of a veto threat by President Barack Obama, the US Senate has voted to block expansion of one of America`s most controversial and expensive defence programmes, production of the F-22 fighter jet.
The 58-40 vote on Tuesday gave the White House and Pentagon a key victory over congressional supporters of the F-22, many of whom represent states and districts where jobs are tied to the production of the jet. The vote, which stripped USD 1.75 billion for an additional seven F-22s from the fiscal year 2010 budget, was a reversal of an earlier Senate committee decision to include money for the programme.
The change came in a response to strong pressure from Obama, Defence Secretary Robert Gates and several key senators who argued that the additional planes are not needed or wanted by the military.
"At a time when we`re fighting two wars and facing a serious deficit, (expanding the F-22) would have been an inexcusable waste of money," Obama said shortly after the vote.
"Every dollar of waste in our defence budget is a dollar we can`t spend to support our troops or prepare for future threats or protect the American people."
Under the 2010 budget proposed by Gates, production of the F-22 would be halted at 187 planes. The Pentagon instead wants to produce 500 of the more modern F-35 planes over the next five years and 2,400 over time.
The decision was met with strong opposition in Congress. With the F-22 being manufactured in or getting supplies from 44 different states, the plane gets broad support from Congressmen and Ssenators on both sides of the aisle.
The Lockheed Martin jet has never been used in Afghanistan or Iraq, but supporters contend it is needed to fight more sophisticated enemies who might confront the United States in the future, such as China or Russia.
Gates has maintained that more jobs will be created in F-35 production than will be lost in stopping the F-22. He said 11,000 jobs will be lost by halting the F-22, while it is anticipated that 82,000 jobs will be created by the F-35.
Gates said Monday he`d heard no "substantive" argument for keeping the jet for national security reasons, pointing out that China has no planes that can compete with the more than 1,000 advanced fighter jets the US will have by 2020.