MARIETTA, Ga. – The final F-22 Raptor fighter jet rolled off the assembly line during a ceremony at the Lockheed Martin aircraft plant at Dobbins Air Reserve Base. The U.S. military is turning to the less costly F-35 Joint Strike Fighter to complement its operational fleet of 187 Raptors, amid concerns in Washington that the $153 million F-22 is too costly and too high-tech for its own good.
Although foreign governments have expressed interest in purchasing the F-22, Congress banned its sale overseas out of concerns that the technology it carries is too sensitive to share. While the aircraft's supporters said such technology made the F-22 a formidable deterrent against emerging foreign powers, critics charged it was no longer needed in a post-Cold War environment -- pointing out that no F-22 has seen combat in Iraq or Afghanistan.
The F-22's official price tag of $153 million does not include research and development costs or retrofits and upgrades that were required to resolve a series of mechanical and software issues.
Although estimates are disputed, some critics say factoring in these additional expenses more than doubles the official cost of the plane.
Still, some members of Congress were reluctant to scrap the F-22 program because of the jobs it created.
F-22 production supports more than 900 jobs at Lockheed Martin's assembly plant in suburban Atlanta. However, company officials expect the discontinuation of the F-22 product line to have a neutral impact on jobs because of other projects underway at the facility.
Lockheed Martin's Marietta plant also produces C-130J military cargo planes, as well as installing wings on P-3 Orion aircraft and retrofitting huge C-5 transports.
Approximately 300 employees at the Georgia facility are building the center wing assembly for the F-35. And company officials say that number could increase to 1,000 as F-35 production ramps up.