Fighter jet crashes in US (Lead)

March 26th, 2009 - 11:41 am ICT by IANS  

Barack Obama Washington, March 26 (DPA) An F-22A fighter jet crashed in California while on a test flight Wednesday, the US Air Force confirmed. The status of the pilot was unclear.
Air force spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Karen Platt said the crash took place about 55 km northwest of Edwards Air Force Base, which lies in the desert north of Los Angeles.

The F-22 Raptor is one of the most sophisticated fighter jets in the world and comes with a hefty pricetag. The crash was the first for this model since it went into full production, Platt said.

The F-22 has been the focus of speculation about President Barack Obama’s plans to cut spending on expensive weapon systems that the military does not need. At $140 million each, the F-22 is the Air Force’s most expensive fighter jet and was originally envisioned during the Cold War.

More than 100 of the 183 F-22s planned for purchase have been delivered since the Raptor went into production in 2005. The Obama administration is expected to say in April whether it will extend production of the Lockheed Martin-built jets.

US Defence Secretary Robert Gates has differed with the air force by saying he believes the number of planned F-22s is sufficient. The vastly sophisticated F-22 features air superiority and radar evading stealth technology.

The plane’s critics argue that it is too expensive at a time when the US is waging counter-insurgency wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Supporters say the plane could be needed for unforeseen future threats. They point to China’s continued military buildup.

Any cuts to the F-22 could draw Obama into a fight with congressional lawmakers, who argue that stopping production would cost thousands of jobs at a time when the economic turmoil has sent millions of people to unemployment lines.

The only other crash of an F-22 took place in December 2004 during pre-production evaluations.

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