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Air Force insists there's no fighter rift

Top officials voice support for the White House's F-22 purchase plans, disowning a general's remarks.

February 16, 2008|Peter Spiegel | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — The top two officials of the Air Force on Friday disowned comments made earlier this week by a four-star general who implied the service was at odds with the Bush administration over purchases of sophisticated new F-22 fighters.

Gen. T. Michael Moseley, the Air Force chief of staff, and Michael W. Wynne, the Air Force secretary and top civilian official, said the general's remarks "misrepresent the position of the U.S. Air Force" and insisted they support F-22 procurement plans outlined by the White House.

"The Air Force wholeheartedly supports the president's budget request for the F-22 program," the two officials said in a statement. "We owe it to our nation and to our allies to have an Air Force ready to meet a range of threats now and into the future. The Air Force and the DoD share the same desired end state."

The statement came a day after Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates privately rebuked Gen. Bruce Carlson, head of the Air Force command responsible for testing and developing new weapons, in a phone call to Wynne.

Carlson had suggested in remarks published by the trade publication Aerospace Daily that the Air Force would buy 381 of the new fighters. Gates has approved only 183 in the Pentagon's 2009 budget, a level also backed by the White House. The planes cost an estimated $140 million apiece.

Defense officials familiar with the phone call said that Gates asked Wynne to correct the public record and that the Air Force statement in support of the White House budget was the official response.

The difference over how many F-22s the Air Force should buy reflects a larger dispute within the Pentagon over weapons procurement and the future of the U.S. military. Many Air Force officials disagree with the administration's position and favor buying additional F-22s.

The Air Force has not disputed Carlson's reported comments. But a transcript of the interview provided by the Air Force shows that Carlson may not have been as confrontational as depicted in the original published report.

The transcript indicates Carlson voiced support for buying the additional F-22s, but only "if DoD and the Congress will allow us to do it."

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peter.spiegel@latimes.com

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