Cohen Rebukes House Over F-22 Vote
WASHINGTON (AP) _ Defense Secretary William Cohen criticized a House panel Tuesday for not consulting with the Pentagon before voting to suspend development of the Air Force’s F-22 stealth fighter jet.
``Neither I nor anyone in this building _ or anyone in the Air Force _ was aware of the effort under way on the part of the committee,″ Cohen told reporters during a photo-taking session in his Pentagon office with Bulgarian Defense Minister Georgi Ananiev.
The House Appropriations Committee voted to suspend production of the F-22 fighter and to use the $1.8 billion earmarked for it in the fiscal 2000 budget to purchase more of the current Air Force F-15 and F-16 fighters and to boost pilot bonuses. The full House takes up the issue later this week.
The F-22 program is the Air Force’s top priority in weapons development and is the biggest weapons project on the Pentagon’s books. The Air Force wants to build 339 of the planes to replace its F-15 fighters.
Cohen, who spent 24 years in the Congress as a Republican from Maine, said he had never before seen a committee take such dramatic action without consulting first with the Defense Department.
``The purpose is quite obvious, I think, and that is to avoid any public discussion, public debate, and any ability on the Air Force or the contractors’ part to respond to questions raised about″ the F-22 program, Cohen added.
``This was done in this fashion in order to be able to recommend the termination of a major program without any countervailing argument or pressure″ from the Pentagon or the White House, he said.
Asked whether he believed the F-22 program could be saved from the budget ax, Cohen replied, ``I am confident the F-22 should go forward. Whether or not there’s going to be bipartisan support and bicameral support for its termination remains to be determined.″
Earlier Tuesday, Cohen was asked about the subject during an appearance before the Senate Armed Services Committee. Cohen said the existing Air Force fleet of F-15s and F-16s represents ``the technology of the ’60s.″ He added, ``We need to stay a generation ahead of the potential competition.″
But committee Chairman John Warner, R-Va., noted the move to freeze the F-22 program was supported by some of the House’s most pro-military members. ``We can’t be giving you a blank check to buy aircraft,″ he told Cohen.