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Gates challenges Congress to cut 'excess' military spending

In a speech Thursday, the Defense secretary reiterated his determination to limit production of the F-22 stealth fighter. But lawmakers of both parties are fighting him.

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Defense Secretary Robert Gates says it's time for Congress, the defense industry, and even parts of his own Pentagon to end the way they've done business for decades – and start by completing the controversial F-22 Raptor stealth fighter program.

"Every defense dollar diverted to fund excess or unneeded capacity – ­whether for more F-22s or anything else – is a dollar that will be unavailable to take care of our people, to win the wars we are in, to deter potential adversaries, and to improve capabilities in areas where America is underinvested and potentially vulnerable," he said in a speech to the Economic Club of Chicago Thursday.

Mr. Gates – with President Obama at his back – has taken a hard line on the F-22 program as a symbol of reckless defense spending. He has also hatcheted other programs, such as a presidential helicopter with a galley for cooking during nuclear attack, in his bid to reform a Pentagon and defense industrial complex intent on the status quo.

The stealth fighter has been billed as the crown jewel of American air superiority in an air-to-air fight with a "near peer" enemy such as China.

But to Gates, the plane fills a highly specialized niche the Pentagon cannot afford to buy more of, and he wants to cap the program at 187 planes.

Congress has other ideas, and both the House and Senate are attempting to amend the $534 billion budget to include $1.7 billion in funding to build seven more planes. The Senate is debating the issue this week, but on Wednesday senators set aside a vote on the amendment adding the additional funding.

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