WASHINGTON — The Senate voted to terminate further production of the Air Force's topline F-22 fighter jets Tuesday, giving President Barack Obama a major spending victory and siding with the Pentagon's desire for smaller jets better suited to 21st century wars.
F-22 supporters complained the action would be a blow to long-term national defense — and cost thousands of jobs in the middle of the recession.
The 58-40 vote to cut the money from a $680 billion defense bill was a hard-fought victory for Obama, who had threatened to veto defense spending legislation if it included funds for more F-22s.
The vote was "a signal that we are not going to continue to build weapons systems with cost overruns which outlive their requirements for defending this nation," declared Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona, who joined Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin in arguing for cutting off production.
The $1.75 billion was aimed at adding seven F-22s to the current plan to deploy 187 of the twin-engine stealth planes. Some of those 187 are still in the pipeline and will be completed.
Gates, first appointed by President George W. Bush, wants to shift military spending to programs more attuned to today's unconventional wars. The F-22, designed for midair combat, has been irrelevant to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and therefore unused there.
Gates and other Pentagon officials want to put more emphasis on the next-generation F-35 Lightning, a single-engine jet that would be used primarily to attack targets on the ground. The defense bill has money to build 30 F-35s.
Florida Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson voted Yes, and Republican Sen. Mel Martinez voted against the bill.