Obama’s F 22 Decision

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If you’re interested in the question of whether Barack Obama can change the culture of Washington, one of the things worth looking at is the lobbying efforts over the F 22 Raptor. The decision of what to do with this fighter aircraft is one of the more important defense procurement questions the administration will face. And, like all defense issues, it’s wrapped up in politics especially in a deep recession when jobs are scarce and good-aying jobs are even scarcer.

Some background: Over decades, weapons systems have taken on a life of their own and proven hard to halt even when the Pentagon is ambivalent about having them. My former TIME colleague, Mark Thompson, a veteran defense correspondent, has, for instance, written at length about the problems bedeviling the V-22 Osprey aircraft and why, despite its woes, billions have been pumped into the project.

When it comes to the F 22 Raptor, the administration is facing a March 1 deadline to decide how many more F22s to order. Lockheed is supposed to deliver the last of the current batch of 181 on order in 2011. The argument against ordering still more F22s is that the Pentagon already has a similar aircraft, the F 35 Joint Strike fighter online and, besides, the more pressing issue for the U.S. is not air superiority in a conventional war but rooting out terrorists in the Khyber Pass. The Air Force has indicated that it would like a total of 381 but several senior Pentagon officials, including Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, have hinted that they’d like far fewer if not to put the kabosh on the program entirely. The Pentagon “has not demonstrated the need or value for making further investments” in the plane, the Government Accountability Office found.

So not surprisingly there’s a lot of lobbying going on to keep the F 22 rolling. Northrop and Lockheed Martin are lobbying heavily to keep the plane in production and there’s a large press availability this week where reporters can sit in simulators and learn all about the 95,000 jobs the plane’s advocates say are at state. Any state where there’s work related to the Raptor is lobbying for it. “With rising unemployment, we need to make sure that we’re not making a knee-jerk reaction and we keep this program going strong,” Keith Scott, president of the Baltimore County Chamber of Commerce told the Baltimore Sun. Our point is, No. 1, this preserves jobs, and No. 2, it is immediate. You don’t have to develop anything,” Lawson said. “This is ‘shovel ready.’ ”

According to the Los Angeles Times, the F-22 program is directly responsible for 25,000 jobs at Bethesda, Md.-based Lockheed Martin and its major suppliers. But Lockheed officials say when jobs from sub-suppliers are added in, the F-22 program maintains 95,000 jobs in 44 states. Among the firms helping Lockheed in Washington is Public Strategies, home to George W. Bush media adviser Mark McKinnon. In Congress, prominent senators from Ted Kennedy to Judd Gregg to Dianne Feinstein signed a letter back in January urging then President Elect Obama to keep the F22 going. Not surprisingly there’s a website, www.preserveraptorjobs.com that’s just part of the lobbying campaign being waged by the Lockheed, Boeing and other suppliers of the jet fighter. We’ll know soon whether their efforts have been successful.

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