RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
Defense Secretary Gates called for an end to the program for the military's most expensive fighter plane, the F-22, which costs around $140 million - each. That means workers in California, Texas and Georgia who have been building the fighter could lose their jobs. NPR's Kathy Lohr reports.
(Soundbite of engine)
KATHY LOHR: At Lockheed Martin in Marietta, Georgia, where the final assembly of the F-22 stealth fighter takes place, some 2,000 jobs are at stake. Workers were just ending a shift when they heard the news, including Mark Forbes(ph), a mechanic who works on the F-22.
Mr. MARK FORBES (Mechanic): I don't think it's good, you know. I think that we need to have an aircraft like that, that nobody else has, you know, and it's kind of like a low blow to us, you know?
LOHR: Richard Stroud(ph) is an engineer who says he's worked at the plant for 57 years on the F-22 and on other defense projects.
Mr. RICHARD STROUD (Engineer): I think it's a huge mistake. We got to keep our defense up and, you know, be ready for anything, because there's some countries out there that is waiting till we let down and they're going to get us.
LOHR: Defense Secretary Robert Gates recommended the Pentagon take just four more F-22 stealth fighter jets than it had already contracted for, amounting to a total of 187 aircraft. The Pentagon wants to increase spending on the far less expensive F-35 fighter jet. Lockheed Martin makes both aircraft. Secretary Gates said for him the decision about the F-22 was not a close call.
Secretary ROBERT GATES (U.S. Department of Defense): First of all, we have fulfilled the program. I mean it's not like we're killing the F-22. We will have 187 of them, so we are completing the F-22 program.
LOHR: Perhaps preparing to defend his decision, Secretary Gates noted there's no question a lot of budget cuts announced Monday will be controversial. Lockheed Martin says in a prepared statement it is assessing the impact on its program. Some members of Congress are gearing up for a fight, among them Georgia Senator Johnny Isakson.
Senator JOHNNY ISAKSON (Republican, Georgia): It's a loss of jobs. It's 90,000 jobs across 49 states in the United States. Final assembly takes place in Marietta, but parts and software and employees work in 49 states to make the F-22.
LOHR: About 24,000 people are directly involved in the production of the fighter jet. Secretary Gates suggested a shift to the F-35 would offset most of the potential job losses.
But Isakson says losing any job in this economy doesn't make sense. And he says the military still needs a high tech fighter as long as America's enemies are capable of launching surface-to-air missiles.
Sen. ISAKSON: The F-22 has the ability to fly at stealth, at high altitudes, to take out radar, and then to launch missiles to attack the targets the military wants to target. You cannot replace that. We've got to have the F-22 in the 21st century.
LOHR: The political battle over the F-22 is just beginning. Until then, the production of the fighter jets continues at the Marietta assembly plant until 2011.
Kathy Lohr, NPR News, Atlanta.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.