WASHINGTON - With one strong voice, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and commanders from all of DoD's unified commands have told Congress that development of the F-22 jet fighter is essential to the nation's defense. In a July 28 letter to Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, the Joint Chiefs said the House Appropriations Committee's July 22 vote to cut $1.8 billion in procurement funding for the F-22 "puts in jeopardy our military modernization program." "Lessons over the last 50 years have taught us that air superiority is the prerequisite for successful military operations. It allows our forces to deploy and establish a logistic infrastructure, provides warfighting commanders the freedom to maneuver forces to gain the advantage, and permits offensive operations in hostile territory. Quite simply, since the addition of airpower to the tools of warfare, no major military campaign has succeeded without air superiority," the Joint Chiefs wrote. The F-22 Raptor is intended to replace the Air Force's F-15C Eagle, which will be 30 years old when the F-22 is scheduled to become operational in 2005. DoD believes the F-22's combination of stealth technology, speed and integrated avionics will give pilots unparalleled air superiority for the next three decades. The Air Force plans to buy 339 F-22s at a cost of $187 million each. Air Force officials predict cutting the F-22 budget could spell the end of the program or, at the very least, push the aircraft's initial operating capability back from 2005 to 2007 and add $6.5 billion to the program's cost. "As the Joint Chiefs of Staff, responsible for assuring the most secure environment for the employment of our forces, we speak with one voice on this issue: America needs the F-22 to ensure our military forces always achieve air superiority in any conflict," the Joint Chiefs emphasized. Full texts of the letters by the Joint Chiefs and the commanders of DoD's unified commands are posted on the Web at http://www.defenselink.mil/specials/f22/.