WASHINGTON — Lockheed Martin's F-22 production line will face serious disruptions, resulting in layoffs in Fort Worth, unless Congress quickly authorizes $523 million toward the purchase of additional F-22s, two Republican senators warned Thursday.
Sens. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and James Inhofe, R-Okla., 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, which 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.
Cornyn and Inhofe, both leading F-22 supporters in Congress, stepped into a dispute between the Pentagon and the Air Force on whether to keep buying the new-generation warplane.
Workers at Lockheed Martin's Fort Worth plant make the midfuselage section, the F-22's largest component. The plane is assembled at a Lockheed Martin plant in Marietta, Ga. Boeing workers in Seattle make another fuselage section.
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 has vigorously argued for at least 381 aircraft, saying that 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.
The Fort Worth F-22 line provides about 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 F-22’s future.
Under the Senate bill, the $497 million would be used either for advance 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.