Pricey Jet Fighters Add Up To Local Jobs

The old New England mill town of Amesbury, Mass., does not look like it has a stake in the battle over the Pentagon's high tech, big ticket weapons. But, as CBS News correspondent David Martin reports, it does.

The F-22 - the most expensive fighter ever built - is on the chopping block. So are the 120 employees of Amesbury's Arc Technologies which manufactures the special coating that makes the F-22 a stealth aircraft.

This is not just about whether America needs the F-22 for its security. It's about what happens to the jobs the F-22 has brought to towns like Amesbury.

Arc President Chip Madden says nearly half his workforce will have to go if funding for the F-22 is cut off.

"The thought of it turns my stomach," Madden says. "It makes me ill to think about it."

Lockheed Martin, the plane's manufacturer, says 95,000 jobs nationwide depend on keeping the F-22 production line open.

The company has deals with contractors in 44 states to produce parts - it's called political engineering, according to Pierre Sprey, who helped build an earlier generation of jets. He says that has contributed to the planes staggering price tag - $62 billion for the 183 built so far - $339 million for each one.

"A good part of that has to do with doling out tiny contracts all over the country," Sprey says.

Local jobs are a powerful political tool, Martin points out, but is spreading those contracts out effective?

"It sure keeps 'em kill proof, you'll see," Sprey says.

The F-22 is designed to be kill proof in the air. A cockpit simulator gives some idea of what it's like to fly a super-sonic stealth aircraft.

It's as high as high-tech gets, but none of the nearly 200 planes have seen combat in Iraq or Afghanistan. That's why Congressman Joe Sestak, D-Pa., a retired three-star Admiral, doesn't want to buy any more.

"I think we have the right number now," Sestak says, adding that he would cut off funding for more jets if it were up to him.

That would leave Bob Frost, who programs Arc's precision drills, looking for a new job in a town whose unemployment rate has already doubled.

"The president's promising jobs but the way it's been going lately a lot of people's losing jobs," Frost says.

What started out as a fighter for the 21st Century, has turned into an economic stimulus package.
By David Martin

  • David Martin

    David Martin is CBS News' National Security Correspondent.