April 20, 2016 / 7:58 PM / 3 years ago

Lawmakers may ask Air Force to look at restarting F-22 production

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A U.S. congressional committee is planning to ask the Air Force to assess the cost and feasibility of restarting production of Lockheed Martin Corp’s F-22 fighter jet in the face of greater security threats around the world.

A U.S. F-22 stealth fighter jet flies over Osan Air Base in Pyeongtaek, South Korea, February 17, 2016. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji

The radar-evading jets formally entered service in December 2005, but then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates canceled the program in 2009 amid efforts to control Pentagon spending and orient the department toward the wars it was then fighting.

Only 187 of the stealthy, high-tech jet fighters were produced, about a quarter of the 749 originally planned. The last was delivered to the Air Force in 2012.

In its portion of the National Defense Authorization Act, the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Tactical Air and Land Forces has included a provision directing the Air Force secretary to carry out a comprehensive study of the cost of resuming production of the F-22.

Congressman Mike Turner, chairman of the subcommittee, said restarting production should be considered because of threats to U.S. air superiority.

“As a result of our adversaries closing the technology gap, and increasing demand from allies and partners for high-performance, multi-role aircraft to meet evolving and worsening global security threats, the committee believes that the prospect of restarting the F-22 production line is worthy of further exploration,” Turner said in a statement on Wednesday.

The committee is asking for the report by Jan. 1, 2017. Consideration of the NDAA, the annual defense policy bill, is still in its early stages. The defense bill must be approved by the House Armed Services Committee, the House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate before going to the president for his signature.

Gates’ decision to halt the F-22 fighter jet sparked criticism from some lawmakers, but was ultimately upheld by Congress. Lawmakers argued that Air Force studies have shown the military needs more of the high-end fighters to be ready for conflicts with other major powers.

The last four F-22 aircraft produced cost about $150 million each.

In August, the United States said it would deploy F-22 fighter jets to Europe as a part of a broader effort to support eastern European members of the NATO alliance that have been unnerved by Russia’s intervention in Ukraine.

The Air Force has also been using the aircraft to carry out attacks against Islamic State.

Reporting by Idrees Ali and David Alexander; Editing by Frances Kerry

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