Defending the F-22

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The Senate is debating the Levin-McCain amendment to terminate the F-22 fighter jet right now, although if you joined the debate halfway through you might be forgiven for thinking that they were talking about an economic stimulus bill.

Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) just delivered a real stemwinder opposing the amendment. His main point: killing the F-22 will cause the loss of up to 95,000 jobs in the middle of a recession. Now Sen. Murray of Washington is talking about the importance of protecting “family wage jobs.” Both devoted a few sentences, at most, to the actual purpose of the plane.

A few points:

* No jobs will be lost mid-recession because even if the Senate approves the McCain-Levin amendment, the production line won’t shut down until 2011.

* Lockheed Martin, which makes the F-22, has said that it can shift many workers to another of its planes, the F-35. The DoD nearly doubled its order of F-35s in this budget. Now, it’s almost certain that some workers will lose their jobs for geographical reasons—Lockheed may add jobs in Texas, for instance, where much of the F-35 work is done, but shed them in New England, where a lot of F-22 manufacturing occurs. But the overall economic effect of cutting the program is not the disaster Murray and Dodd are claiming it to be. The DOD estimates that the F-35 will create 44,000 new jobs in 2010—many more than the number of people who are directly employed on the F-22. A Lockheed Martin executive told market analysts last year that workers on the F-22 assembly line can be redeployed to other planes and that the company’s portfolio is “probably good as we’ve ever been.” Even the plane’s most vigorous congressional defender, Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga) has conceded that “jobs is probably not going to be an issue.”  In fact, the Center for American Progress estimates that the overall effect of the Obama budget could bring a net increase in direct defense jobs.

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