Rep. Harper visits Miss. Lockheed Martin plant

Published 10:54 pm Wednesday, April 8, 2009

U.S. Rep. Gregg Harper toured a Mississippi Lockheed Martin plant Tuesday and said a Pentagon plan to cut missile defense spending could be bad for national security and the economy.

The Mississippi Republican’s visit to the Lockheed Martin plant in Meridian came a day after Defense Secretary Robert Gates recommended sweeping changes to military spending, including halting production of the F-22 Raptor fighter jet.

About 20 people at the Meridian plant work on the vertical stabilizers — a part of the tail section — of the F-22, said company spokesman Rob Fuller.

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Harper said it’s “a horrible idea to cut missile defense by $1.4 billion” when countries like North Korea and Iran are potential threats.

“At a time when we should be focusing resources and research into defense funding, it would be poor judgment by the Obama Administration to make a decision which would defer attention from the first rate equipment our service men and women deserve,” Harper said in a statement. “I hope that the President will reconsider his decision to scratch the F-22 Raptor program.”

It’s not clear if jobs would be cut at Meridian if Congress approves Gates’ proposal. The plant also builds components of the C-130J transport plane.

Bethesda, Md.-based Lockheed said Tuesday that it was assessing Gates’ proposal. The company has said thousands of jobs in several states could be at risk if the Pentagon doesn’t buy more F-22s.

Gates’ plan is likely to face opposition from Harper and other members of Congress who are loathe to allow the loss of any defense jobs, especially during the recession.

While recommending cuts to the F-22 program, Gates wants to more than double the number of another Lockheed fighter, the F-35, to 30 in the upcoming budget, which would increase funding to $11.2 billion from $6.8 billion.