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Boardman writes: "The Air Force has admitted that its critics in Vermont have been right all along."

The F-35 (photo: SCANPIX)
The F-35 (photo: SCANPIX)

Air Force Admits F-35 Errors

By William Boardman, Reader Supported News

03 June 13


he Air Force has admitted that its critics in Vermont have been right all along - that basing the F-35 Joint 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The faulty first estimate in the Air Force's environmental impact statement resulted from the Air Force's use of outdated 2000 census data, even though 2010 census data was easily available at the time the statement was prepared.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 on not only the human impact, but also the 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 Rep. 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 then went on mention a "citizens' hearing" and interviewed 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 Senator 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?"

Senator 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 Senator Leahy.

More than 300 of the people caricatured by Senator 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, the 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, the governor, the mayor, and others to hold responsive public hearings 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 were 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 Senator Leahy, Sprey argued that the plane's undeniable bulk will mean it will have to use afterburners during takeoffs. Planes using afterburners 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.

The 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 Chasan 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 Colonel (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 Colonel 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 had been bombed.

So How Much Damage Can a $400 Billion Fighter-Bomber Do?

The panel's lone businessman, Ben Cohen, the co-founder of Ben & 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 the 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

The 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: "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.

Reader Supported News is the Publication of Origin for this work. Permission to republish is freely granted with credit and a link back to Reader Supported News. your social media marketing partner


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+50 # fredboy 2013-06-03 14:14
The F-35 should be called The Noisemaker. Hideous, cracking, sustained thunder. Also, why base it anywhere since the Air National Guard keeps its planes on the ground during national emergencies--re member the zero launched on 9/11? Four jetliners hijacked, and the Guard sat the whole thing out.

Last question, why Vermont? Are we really that terrified of those pesky Canadians?
+34 # Trueblue Democrat 2013-06-03 15:29
fredboy, you just don't see the big picture.

$ $
$ $
$ $
+23 # WBoardman 2013-06-03 15:33
Why Vermont?

According to the Boston Globe, the Air Force "fudged" the environmental impact statement because Sen Leahy wanted the credit for a project that, by the way, probably help his wife's family.

As for 9/11 -- I asked the Vermont National Guard what were their standing orders as of that morning.

Still waiting for an answer.
+48 # osopolar 2013-06-03 14:22
This is a another disaster caused by the Military-Indust rial Complex! Which Corporation is at the design, engineering and building end of this debacle? If you want to get to the bottom of it, follow the money! No doubt it will lead back to the Wall St. shareholders and the lobbyists who do their bidding!
+24 # WBoardman 2013-06-03 15:35
Lockheed Martin is the primary contractor.

As I understand it, the work is being performed in some 40 different states.

So far, it looks like a classic Military-Indust rial-Congressio nal complex paradigm -- to use Ike's original phrasing before his political advisors edited his speech.
+35 # noitall 2013-06-03 14:37
When it comes to getting re-elected, it seems that even the "good guys" are willing to compromise what is best for our country and it's defense with rewarding the Industrial Military Complex profiteers and wasting tax money if it means jobs for THEIR state. We definitely live with a flawed system and I don't see any of our "champions" stepping up there to fix it.
+9 # USA2012??? 2013-06-03 15:05
Excuse me, but isn't the F-35 Lightning the US Navy's new all purpose vertical take off fighter? Is the US Air Force going to use this plane as well as the F-22 Raptor?
+7 # WBoardman 2013-06-03 15:39
You're on the right track.

The F-35 is supposed to be used by three services --
Marines(Navy), Army, and Air Force.

Vertical takeoff is for the Marines.

As for the F-22, apparently --
+23 # wrknight 2013-06-03 15:10
Besides all that, what threat is the F-35 going to protect us against? Canadians?
+9 # WBoardman 2013-06-03 15:40
F-35 is designed as an offensive weapon.
+21 # reiverpacific 2013-06-03 16:15
I'm just rather astonished that Bernie Sanders of all people, seems to have been supporting this boondoggle waste of taxpayer funds!
Can't we trust ANYBODY?
+3 # crispy 2013-06-04 03:18
I heard Sanders speaking against the F-35...
Norman Goldman has repeatedly called for shutting down the program; he is right!
+2 # WBoardman 2013-06-04 18:16
Sanders speaking against the F-35?
Love to see that documented.

What I've seen is Sanders (and Welch) giving somewhat careful
support to the program, but leaving themselves plenty of room to reverse course if the tide shifts.

There's no sense in any of their public statements that I've seen that they've thought much about the issues. It plays as deference to Leahy and not much more.
-8 # skylinefirepest 2013-06-03 19:18
Hey guys, don't sweat it...under the current administration the 336th F.S. at Seymour Johnson AFB has been "stood down". So they aren't combat ready...but it's all right...obumma has said the war on terror has already been won. ( Yeah, the bad guys won it while obumma was out on the golf course. )
+4 # WBoardman 2013-06-04 18:26
The ad hominem trash aside,
it's hard to see how the F-35 has any tactical relevance
to the "global war on terror"
which is itself nonsense, since
you can't make war on a tactic or an abstraction.

A quick google of SJ AFB in NC suggests that
there's plenty of other F.S. there not stood down.

But here's a win-win proposition --
you take the F-35 and leave Vermont in peace.
0 # skylinefirepest 2013-06-06 23:27
Mr. Boardman, the units at SJAFB are the 334th,335th, and the 336th TFS. One third of the capability has now been "stood down" compliments of the one in charge. The 336th TFS had just scored a really outstanding score on an ORI and taking them out of readiness is a really stupid thing to do. BTW, these squadrons don't fly the 35, they fly the Strike Eagle and do it to perfection.
+3 # bingers 2013-06-05 09:55
Quoting skylinefirepest:
Hey guys, don't sweat it...under the current administration the 336th F.S. at Seymour Johnson AFB has been "stood down". So they aren't combat ready...but it's all right...obumma has said the war on terror has already been won. ( Yeah, the bad guys won it while obumma was out on the golf course. )

You realize the F-35 is useless against terrorism, right? Maybe if we went to war with China it would serve a purpose, but if we did, where would we get our spare parts?
-1 # skylinefirepest 2013-06-06 23:28
Bingers...pleas e read my reply to Mr. Boardman. The three fighter squadrons at Seymour Johnson AFB fly the Strike Eagle and as such can inflict a major amount of pain and suffering on those who would commit terrorism in the name of Allah!!
+6 # Art947 2013-06-03 21:44
It is a shame that Leahy, Sanders, etc. are clearly demonstrating why even those of us who support Democrats are disgusted! When human life, the environment, health and safety and so many other true needs take a back seat to machines of war and $$$$, it is no wonder that many Americans have given up on the ideals of our political system.
+3 # jmer 2013-06-04 03:03
Offensive? The F35 are designed to carry Nuclear Warheads. Do we plan on nuking ourselves?
+3 # Pancho 2013-06-05 05:47
I went to two constituent town halls near Pauls Valley, Oklahoma, five years ago. The locals were almost universally there to complain about stem cell research so it was clear that the local bible pounders had drummed up the morons.

At the second meeting, representatives from the area's Republican congressman attended. They completely ignored the stem cell craziness and launched into a sales pitch as to why the F-35 was a truly wonderful idea. These staffers were supposed to be fiscal conservatives but were touting the military's biggest rathole. I asked a question about the redundant engine producer and got death ray looks from the Rep's stooges.

The locals, obviously dragooned from local fundy churches, hadn't the faintest idea what the staffers were talking about and really weren't paying any attention.

Those contracts for that prodigiously useless but impossibly expensive piece of pork were spread over almost every state. I wonder how many other town halls around the U.S. got to hear similar sales pitches?

Sorry to hear that the Vermont delegation, probably the best in the U.S., has bought into this nonsense.

This boondoggle is the ultimate Swiss Army plane. It's designed to accommodate dozens of different applications and constituencies and may not fly any better than the knife does. At least the knife goes about its business quietly.
+4 # fieldmanh 2013-06-05 11:51
Wonderful to have Boardman responding to reader comments -- the whole forum benefits from less rhetoric and (a lot) more facts. Thanks, W. Boardman!

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