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UPDATE 1-US Senator temporarily drops bid to kill F-22 funds
* Levin sees close vote on effort to kill F-22 funding
* Another fight looming over F-35 alternate engine
* Bill includes $550.4 billion for military programs (Recasts, adds details, comments, background)
By Jeremy Pelofsky
WASHINGTON, July 15 (Reuters) - U.S. Senator Carl Levin on Wednesday temporarily withdrew a bid to kill $1.75 billion in funding for more F-22 fighter jets in a massive defense spending bill but senators leading the charge vowed they would try again soon.
The Senate has been tied up in knots this week over Lockheed-Martin's (LMT.N) performance-plagued F-22 as well as by a bid by Democrats to attach an unrelated amendment to the bill that would broaden hate crimes laws to address gender and sexual orientation.
"That's going to have to be resolved and then we're going to come right back" to the amendment to eliminate funding for buying seven more F-22s, Levin, the Senate Armed Services Committee chairman and a Michigan Democrat, told reporters.
It was not immediately clear when a vote would occur on the F-22 money but Senate aides suggested it could be put off until next week. Lockheed's shares were up 39 cents to $81.58 in midday trading on the New York Stock Exchange.
President Barack Obama has threatened to veto the annual defense bill if it includes the money to buy the extra F-22 jets. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has proposed stopping production at 187 jets.
As of March, there 134 F-22s in service and the Air Force said they cost about $143 million each.
Lawmakers from states like Connecticut and Georgia where the aircraft are produced have rebuffed Obama's veto threat and seek to protect well-paying jobs at a time when the economy is in a deep recession and unemployment is soaring.
Senator John McCain, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, and others have criticized the F-22 for its performance problems and have pointed out that it has not been used in combat operations in the U.S.-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The F-22's critics point out that each hour of flight time requires 30 hours of maintenance and that the plane has had problems with its radar-absorbing metallic skin.
Levin said Obama's veto threat coupled with comments by senior military officers in the Air Force and by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen had helped their cause to strike the F-22 funding but he was still not sure he had the votes.
"It's going to be a close vote," Levin said.
The overall defense authorization bill includes $550.4 billion for military operations and programs as well as $130 billion for the two wars for fiscal 2010 which begins Oct. 1.
Gates wants to cut back many of the military's weapons programs and transition from the F-22 to three models of Lockheed's Joint Strike Fighter F-35, co-developed with eight countries and built for export.
Levin said he expected other big fights over $439 million to continue work on a second F-35 engine being built by General Electric Co. (GE.N) and Britain's Rolls-Royce Group Plc (RR.L) as well as potentially on dealing with detainees at the U.S. prison held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Obama's advisers said they would recommend that the president veto the bill if the engine effort disrupted the overall F-35 program.
Obama's advisers also objected to another provision in the legislation that would require the administration to report to Congress before using money to help Pakistan's counterinsurgency efforts as that country faces militant Taliban fighters spilling over the border from Afghanistan. (Editing by Bill Trott)
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