F-35 May Come to Vermont on Wing and Prayer – or Mostly Prayer, and Deceit. Air Force Acknowledges Critics Were Right About Impact of Vermont F-35 Base.
The Air Force has admitted that it’s critics in Vermont have been right all along – that basing the F-35 strike fighter in Burlington, the state’s only area with population at urban-concentration levels, will render thousands more homes “unsuitable for residential use” than originally estimated.
The faulty first estimate in the Air Force’s environmental impact statement resulted from the Air Force’s use of outdated 2000 census data, even though 2010 census data was easily available at the time the statement was prepared.
The 1,100-page environmental impact statement has been challenged on factual grounds since its release in 2012. The Air Force is currently reassessing it, with a full revised edition expected in the fall of 2013. There is now a 30 day public comment period on the revised report.
The revisions made public on May 31 all related to the Air Force’s erroneous population figures for the several towns surrounding the Burlington International Airport (which is in South Burlington, but owned by Burlington). Burlington suffers little negative impact from airport while reaping most of the benefits. The Air Force also corrected population data for other F-35 bases under consideration in other states.
F-35 Would Sacrifice Poorer Vermonters to Benefit Wealthy
Most of the people directly harmed by the airport, and the potential F-35 basing, live in South Burlington, where city councilor Rosanne Greco has been an outspoken, analytical critic of the Air Force plans based not only on the human impact, but environmental and economic damage, as well as military waste and futility. Greco is a retired Air Force colonel who served for years as a Pentagon planner.
‘‘Kudos to the Air Force for taking our concerns seriously,’’ Greco told the Associated Press, referring to the more accurate data. ‘‘My major concern with this document is that this document will also be ignored by our senior decision makers. They pretty much ignored the last document. They ignored the people. They ignored the facts.’’
In this she was referring to Vermont’s two Senators, Democrat Patrick Leahy and independent Bernie Sanders, as well as Democrats Cong. Peter Welch, Governor Peter Shumlin, Mayor Miro Weinberger, and others. These officials all have in common a reflexive support for basing the F-35 in Vermont, without displaying even rudimentary understanding of the range of issues raised by basing an advanced war machine in the state.
Media coverage of the F-35 issue has been notoriously soft, with few reporters doing more than superficial reporting, generally biased toward the Air Force and supporters of militarization. WPTZ-TV’s short report on May 31, for example, began with a snide anchor woman saying, “F-35 opponents have their say, once again, in Burlington” (emphasis in original).
Senator Leahy Gets to Mock and Demean His Constituents on TV
The short report than went on mention a “citizens hearing” and interview a jet fighter designer who spoke in sharply critical terms of the F-35 at the hearing. But the report gave roughly equal time to Sen. Leahy at some unspecified time when he was mocking his constituents who are F-35 opponents.
After claiming the F-35 as an honor for the Vermont National Guard, Leahy ignored substantive issues in favor of demagoguery: “I’ve heard a lot, and I heard one of the opponents say, ‘This is terrible, we’ve got five minutes too much noise coming from this.’ Five minutes? For national defense?”
Sen. Leahy also denigrated those who, like the Boston Globe, claimed the Air Force “fudged” its report to make it come out the way the Senator wanted. The Air Force has admitted errors in the past, as it did again on May 31, but it has not said it was pandering to Sen. Leahy.
More than 300 of the people caricatured by Sen. Leahy showed up for a “citizens hearing” at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Burlington May 30, organized by the Stop the F-35 Coalition and 13 other sponsors including the Peace and Justice Center, Burlington Quakers, and the Vermont Progressive Party.
Hearing Presents Devastating Assessment of F-35 and Its Impact
The citizens hearing was organized to respond to the failure of the congressional delegation, governor, mayor, and others to hold responsive public hearing or to address the myriad concerns of F-35 opponents. One of the organizers, realtor Chris Hurd, welcomed these officials to the hearing and invited them to stand and be thanked – causing laughter, as none of them was there.
One of the speakers was aviation engineer Pierre Sprey, who was a co-designer of the F-16 that the Vermont Guard currently flies and that Sprey sees having a useful life of another twenty years or more.
His critique of the F-35 was devastating as reported by the Burlington Free Press: “He said that despite Air Force claims of its stealth capability, [the F-35] will be easily visible to enemy radar, is vulnerable to ground fire, lacks maneuverability because of its weight and small wings, carries only half the bombing payload of the F-16 and, again because of its small wings, must fly too fast and high to be successful in its close support role.”
Perhaps most damaging to supporters of the F-35, who trivialize its noise, like Sen. Leahy, Sprey argued that the plane’s undeniable bulk will mean it will have to use afterburners during takeoffs. Planes using afterburners will make substantially more noise than those without them, which implies that the F-35 would destroy even more habitable housing than the Air Force and its adherents are now admitting.
F-35 Would Destroy American Communities Before Bombing Foreign Ones
“We are deeply pained by their support (of the F-35) because it would destroy the quality of life for our most vulnerable neighbors,” said another speaker, Rabbi Joshua Chasan of the Ohavi Zedek synagogue in Burlington. “Common sense would direct the placement of these airplanes to airports with far fewer people in the vicinity.”
Noting that the threatened neighborhoods included immigrant communities that have been welcomed by their neighbors, the rabbi underscored the irony in displacing these people with a useless war machine:
“Where is our hospitality now – to bring in yet to be properly tested jets to fly over our new neighbors, raining upon them the roar of powerful engines of war as if refugees below were homesick for the fearsome sound of these instruments of war.”
Rabbi Chasen spoke for himself and 14 other members of the local clergy who, some months ago wrote to their elected representatives expressing their concerns. They are still awaiting an answer.
Air Force Co. (Ret.) Says Pentagon Policy Is “Hardware First, People Second”
Another, perhaps much larger group of innocent victims of the F-35 may be the hundreds of thousands of military and veteran families. According to Col. Greco: “A few categories of people will pay way more than their fair share. The Pentagon intends to pay for the F-35 by cutting military personnel and by cutting military personnel benefits, including health care and benefits for military families….
“This is nothing new. The military has been paying for weapons systems by cutting people programs for decades. Hardware first, people second.”
Already living in the shadow of the F-35, Janice Brousseau moved into her house in 1950. In recent years Brousseau, who is known as “Gramma,” said she has seen the airport buyout of uninhabitable houses leave them shuttered and empty, turning her area into a “little Detroit.”
She plans to sell her house – if she can – before the F-35 makes it as worthless as if it was bombed.
So How Much Damage Can a $400 Billion Fighter-Bomber Do?
The panel’s lone businessman, Ben Cohen, the co-founder of Ben K& Jerry’s ice cream, encouraged the supporters to continue to resist the Air Force’s plans. “I really believe we can do it,” he said. “This plane and the Pentagon mentality this plane represents is bankrupting our country.”
Rabbi Chasan agreed: “Let us be strong in the face of facile flag waving and fear-mongering.”
Summing it up, Sprey said his years of experience with Pentagon informed his conclusion that the opponents were right and F-35 supporters were mostly blowing smoke:
“Whether you have the Air National Guard unit at the Burlington Airport or not has only to do with horse trading among senators and congressmen. It has nothing to do with what airplane is here….
“When people tell you that you’re opposing defending America if you’re against the F-35, I suggest you laugh in their face. The quicker it gets canceled, the better off the defense of the nation is.”
It Won’t Be really Ready for Six More Years, But at Least It’s Expensive
F-35 is already the most expensive weapons system in history, and it is still at least six years from being fully deployed. That’s the best case as stated by the Pentagon in publicity released May 31. The news coverage was generally more along the lines of “F-35 Combat-Ready in 2015.” And all three of these statements are true.
The discrepancy lies in the selection of available facts, facts that may be best understood in the context of another fact: the last time the Pentagon predicted F-35 combat-readiness, the plane was supposed to be able to go on the attack in 2010. So far, the $400 billion F-35 program is 100% over budget and a decade behind schedule, and losing ground by all criteria.
Reporting to Congress one day ahead of the Congressionally-set deadline of June 1, the Pentagon told Congress, according to Bloomberg News, referring to the schedule as “combat-ready dates”:
“… the initial short-takeoff and vertical-landing model for the Marine Corps will be ready no later than December 2015. The target for the Air Force’s version of the jet is December 2016, and the date for the Navy model, designed to take off and land on aircraft carriers, is February 2019.”
Explaining further, Reuters reported that: “Those are the dates that Lockheed Martin’s F-35 will achieve initial operational capability – the point when the services have enough planes on hand to go to war if needed.”
“Actual deployments usually lag initial operational capability (IOC) dates by about a year,” Reuters added. “Friday’s [May 31] congressional rollout made the dates official, despite ongoing concerns about the cost and technical maturity of the world’s most expensive weapons system.”
Officially, no one will say that the F-35 will never be combat-ready, but the possibility remains, and is less than remote.