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House Outmaneuvers F-22 Jet

The F-22 fighter jet - an aircraft the Air Force regards as critical to maintaining U.S. air superiority - suffered a direct hit in the House on Thursday.

CBS News National Security Correspondent David Martin reports the House withdrew an F-22 amendment that would have put $1.8 billion into the $266 billion defense budget which passed later in the day.

Not getting the money may prove a fatal hit for the F-22 fighter jet program, preventing the purchase of the next generation of stealth fighter jets that the Air Force considers critical to future U.S. air superiority.

"That cost is nearly $200 million for each fighter," says Rep. Randy Cunningham, R-Calif. "How many can we buy? I don't care how great the plane is."

The sudden turn against the radar-evading aircraft caught the Pentagon by surprise. Eleventh hour lobbying - including flying in a congressman to hear directly from pilots - failed to change enough minds, even though the man who flies it says it can't be beat.

"If you combine the capabilities of super cruise, stealth, maneuverability and what I call a smart airplane, and you put all those together, this is a revolutionary change in fighter capabilities," explains Air Force Lt. Col. C. D. Moore.

The question is how much of this is really needed if the U.S. already controls the skies. The Air Force's answer is that without it, American pilots can't stay ahead of the next generation of foreign-made fighters and surface-to-air missiles.

The budget still has to pass in the Senate, and the president may well veto any bill which kills the plane outright. It may be in a dogfight, but the F-22 is not dead yet.