WASHINGTON (AP) -- The defense contractor building the F-22 fighter jet said Tuesday that thousands of jobs would be lost if President Barack Obama decides not to continue funding for the advanced but costly plane.
The warning from Lockheed Martin Corp. comes as the defense industry and its supporters in Congress are pushing the president to maintain big Pentagon programs as a way to preserve needed jobs during the deepening recession.
"You're not taking a chance on how many jobs this will create and when we will see those jobs," said Larry Lawson, Lockheed's general manager of the F-22 program, which he said is responsible for about 95,000 jobs at 1,000 suppliers.
Obama must decide by March 1 whether to spend $523 million on 20 more of the radar-evading stealth planes beyond the 183 already planned. It will represent one of the first major defense spending decisions of his presidency.
Pentagon leaders, including Defense Secretary Robert Gates, have expressed doubt that more of the $140 million F-22s are needed, especially since the military plans to buy several thousand F-35s, a much cheaper plane.
The Air Force has pushed for production of F-22s to reach 381 total aircraft. Lawson said the F-22 is needed for aerial combat and would be used for potential future threats from nations like China and Russia.
The plane was given a reprieve in November when the Pentagon approved $50 million in bridge funding to give Obama time to decide on the future of the program. The money will fund the purchase of parts of four F-22s beyond the 183 planes under contract.
In January, 44 senators sent Obama a letter urging him to continue production of the F-22. The letter argues that the program could provide thousands of jobs at a time when manufacturers are shedding factory jobs at a rapid clip because of the recession. Roughly 200 House members also wrote to Obama asking him to build more planes.
Bethesda, Md.-based Lockheed is the prime contractor for the F-22. Boeing Co. manufactures the wings and other parts in Seattle. The engines are supplied by Pratt & Whitney, a United Technologies Corp. unit, in Middletown, Conn.
Lawson said most of the 95,000 jobs connected to the F-22 program would be lost by 2011 if funding for additional planes is not approved, he said.
Loren Thompson, a defense analyst with the Lexington Institute, said it was difficult to gauge how many jobs were directly tied to the plane. But he said about 25,000 workers at the big companies like Lockheed would most likely lose their jobs if Obama does not extend funding. That combined with the strong Congressional support means the F-22 will likely get the money, he said.
"There is a real possibility this program will stay in production," he said.