Christine Stuart photo

Defending the production of the F-22 Raptor fighter jet is nothing new for US Rep. John B. Larson and US Senator Chris Dodd.

Surrounded by workers from Pratt & Whitney and Hamilton Sundstrand who build the stealth fighter jet, Larson said his first speech on the floor of the House in 1999 was in defense of the F-22 program.

“It’s been a battle ever since,” Larson said.

Earlier this week Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates called for an end to the F-22 program.

James Parent, assistant directing business representative of the machinist union, said cutting production short at 187 means only four more will be produced by 2011. At that point an estimated 2,000 to 3,000 workers could lose their jobs if the F-22 program is discontinued.

Parent said he’s not confident the Defense Department will be able to move up the production of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, which is the next generation of fighter jet. He said a premature end to the F-22 program could mean those skilled workers may leave the state before the production of the F-35 begins.

If the state loses the 2,000 to 3,000 workers it won’t be able to make that transition to the new fighter jet, Dodd said. “That number doesn’t get you to the F-35,” he added. 

Critics have argued that the F-22 is a Cold War era fighter jet which currently isn’t being used in combat in Iraq or Afghanistan.

But Dodd thinks the Pentagon should be using it in the mountainous terrain of Afghanistan.

“They ought to,” Dodd said . “It isn’t just air-to-air, it’s air to ground…It seems to me the F-22 ought to be in that field.”

What happens if production of the jet ends?

“You don’t reconstitute this industrial base,” Dodd said. “Once it’s formed you break it up and you really put all these technologies at risk.”

Larson said there’s a strategic value to the F-22 program. He said the United States Air Force wants to make sure it’s not equal or competitive with it’s enemies.

“We want to know we are superior,” he said.

Dismissing it as a parochial issue, Larson and Dodd both expressed confidence in getting the program restored based not only on their political savvy and the nation’s security, but also their recent victories on getting the Pentagon to rebid Marine One and the refueling tanker.