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US needs more F-22 fighters than Gates wants, says an Air Force commander

He's at odds with the defense secretary's cap of 187 stealth jets.

A US Air Force F- 22 Raptor prepares to take off at Kadena US Air Force Base on Japan's southwestern island of Okinawa Tuesday. The aircraft based in Langley, Virginia are being deployed in the region for four months.

Yuriko Nakao/REUTERS

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A top Air Force general, crossing swords with Pentagon leadership, says a proposed cap on the number of F-22 stealth fighters puts America at "high risk" of compromising military strategy.

In a June 9 letter to a senator, Gen. John Corley, commander of the Air Force's Air Combat Command, wrote: "In my opinion, a fleet of 187 F-22s puts execution of our current national military strategy at high risk in the near to mid term." General Corley's letter, obtained by the Monitor Thursday, came in response to a query from Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R) of Georgia, where parts of the F-22 Raptor are built.

The 187 cap is the symbolic centerpiece of Defense Secretary Robert Gates's budget request, which aims to rein in defense procurement costs. He has said it is time to wrap up the program to buy the $140 million-a-copy plane.

The Air Force had long disagreed, calling for as many as 381 planes as recently as last year, in apparent defiance of Mr. Gates. The Defense Secretary fired the Air Force's two top leaders last year, largely over the issue.

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