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F-22 line faces layoffs without more funding, senators say

WASHINGTON _ Lockheed Martin’s F-22 production line will face serious disruptions, resulting in job lay-offs in Fort Worth, unless Congress quickly authorizes $523 million toward the purchase of additional F-22s, two Republican senators warned Thursday.

Sens. John Cornyn of Texas and James Inhofe of Oklahoma issued the warning in a letter to the leaders of the Senate Armed Services Committee as Congress moves toward approving a defense bill for the 2009 fiscal year that begins in October.

The senators urged committee chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., and John McCain, R-Ariz., the committee’s senior Republican, to adopt a House recommendation that would authorize $523 million for the advance purchase of parts for 20 additional F-22s in the 2010 fiscal year.

In taking the position, Cornyn and Inhofe, both leading F-22 supporters in Congress, stepped into a dispute between the Pentagon and the Air Force on whether or not to continue purchasing the new-generation war-plane.

Workers at Lockheed Martin’s Fort Worth plant make the mid-fuselage section, the largest component of the F-22. The plane is assembled at another Lockheed Martin plant in Marietta, Ga. Boeing workers in Seattle make another section of the fuselage.

The Pentagon leadership wants to close F-22 production lines early in the next decade after a three-year procurement contract expires, capping the Air Force’s F-22 fleet at 183. The Air Force, however, has vigorously argued for continuing production to build at least 381 aircraft, saying anything less would undermine U.S. air superiority.

The dispute contributed to Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ decision to fire Air Force Chief of Staff T. Michael Moseley, a native of Grand Prairie, and Air Force Secretary Michael Wynne. They have since been replaced by new Air Force leadership.

The F-22 line in Fort Worth provides approximately 8,100 jobs in Texas, including 5,400 directly attached to F-22 production and 2,700 secondary service jobs, Cornyn and Inhofe said. If F-22 procurement is stopped or restricted, the senators said, ``this would likely result in layoffs in the Fort Worth area.’’

The decision on approving the $523 million toward the 20 aircraft in 2010 must be made by November to prevent a ``gap in deliveries,’’ the senators said. ``Without this essential funding,’’ they said, the F-22 supply chain ``will begin to erode over the next several months as contractors cease production on F-22 components and shift resources to unrelated projects.

"It is important that we prevent an expensive disruption to the F-22 production line," they said.

A House version of the defense bill includes the $523 million. The Senate’s version calls for $497 million that would be set aside until after a new president – either McCain, the Republican presidential nominee, or Democrat Barack Obama – takes office in January and decides the future of the F-22.

Under the Senate bill, the $497 million would be used either for advanced purchases for the 20 F-22s or for the cost of closing down the line. A House-Senate conference committee is reconciling differences between the two defense bills for final action in Congress before lawmakers adjourn within the next several weeks.