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Obama weighs into Raptor stealth superfighter fracas

Royal Navy will be cheering for the president

The White House has signalled that President Obama may veto plans by Washington politicians to maintain production of the F-22 Raptor stealth superfighter. The move has important implications for the British arms industry, and even for the future of the Royal Navy.

US Defence Secretary Robert Gates, backed by the president, decided in April that America should cease producing the Raptor once it has a fleet of 187. However, members of Congress have subsequently amended the Pentagon budget plans to keep manufacture of the expensive ultrafighter going past that point.

Now, though, staff at the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) have issued a statement (pdf), saying that the administration "strongly objects" to the extra Raptor funding. The OMB goes on to say that "if the final bill presented to the President contains this provision, the President's senior advisors would recommend a veto".

Argument over the Raptor's future has raged in America and overseas for years. The plane is judged by most analysts to be the most advanced fighter plane flying, giving the US an unbeatable edge in air warfare. But it is extremely expensive and has relatively limited abilities in the field of delivering ground strikes, the main activity carried out by combat jets.

SecDef Gates, confirmed in post by Obama, wants to cut off Raptor production to save money. He would spend some of the cash on cheaper aircraft such as the F-35 "affordably stealthy" strike fighter and on unmanned drones. More money would also go on various initiatives to ease the lives of America's combat troops on the ground.

But ceasing Raptor production would mean lost jobs in the constituencies of various senators and congressmen. Some of them would prefer to keep the Raptor going as an economic-stimulus package - an opposing congressman has described this as "weaponised Keynesianism".

Then, almost all of the global aerospace industry hates and fears the F-35 as it seems likely to dominate the world combat jet market for many years, perhaps putting many of its competitors out of business. Delays to the F-35 will drive up its price and make it less attractive, so rival fighter companies like Boeing are deploying all their Washington clout against the cheaper stealth jet.

More cash for the Raptor is bad for the F-35, so they're in favour. Lockheed, builder of the F-35, isn't resisting them as hard as it normally would as it also makes the Raptor.

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