Leas: F-35 hype punctured by South Burlington City Council

Editor’s note: This op-ed is by James Marc Leas, a patent lawyer from South Burlington who served as a staff physicist for the Union of Concerned Scientists in the aftermath of the accident at Three Mile Island.

The South Burlington City Council punctured the hype around the F-35 and voted 4-1 against basing the plane in South Burlington. The sales pitch launched by the plane’s supporters about jobs, supporting our soldiers, defending Vermont, and defending freedom could not persuade a City Council chaired by no-nonsense former Air Force Col. Rosanne Greco. Asserting that her “primary responsibility is to the residents of South Burlington,” Greco told Vermont Public Radio, “If you read the various categories in the Environmental Impact Statement that the Air Force produced, you will see that in just about every category that there were significant negative effects on South Burlington.”

Noise: According to that Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), the F-35 will increase noise far above the level of the F-16s. Some 1,366 more homes in South Burlington, Winooski and Williston will be put in a noise range equal to or greater than the level that has already caused more than 100 affordable homes in South Burlington to be razed under an airport property acquisition plan.

For example, loud as the F-16 is in Winooski, little of that town’s housing is currently experiencing noise above the 65 decibel threshold used for the property acquisition plan. But the F-35 will put more than half of residential Winooski in that extreme high noise range. Thus, the F-35 will not defend our communities and our homes. Instead, defending them requires saying no to the F-35.

Air quality: One reason South Burlington is a “preferred location” for basing the F-35 is recognized in the EIS — clean air. In the words of the EIS, “Since Burlington is an attainment zone for all criteria pollutants, a conformity analysis is not needed.” By contrast the EIS states that the Hill Air Force Base in Utah is in “nonattainment.” Translation to ordinary English: Because our air is clean enough, the Air Force is not required to list concerns, implement remedial plans, or demonstrate that the emissions from the F-35 will not further degrade air quality if it bases the plane in Vermont. Because air at Hill Air Force Base is already heavily laced with pollutants the Air Force needs to jump through hoops to bring the F-35 there.

Safety: The EIS states that “projected mishap rates for the F-35A may be comparable to the historical rates for the F-22A (Raptor), the latest fighter jet in the DoD inventory.” According to data in the EIS, the three severe crashes the F-22 suffered during its first four years of operation meant its severe crash rate was 7.3 times the current rate for F-16s. The Air Force basing plan thus is likely to sharply degrade safety for Vermonters.

Defending Vermont: According to the EIS, the air-to-ground ordnance the F-35 is expected to carry includes 2,000 pound Mark-84 bombs, GBU-39 small diameter bombs, and a wide variety of air-to-ground missiles, dispensers, and guided missiles. An Air Force video explains that the F-35 will “take the fight directly to the enemy,” is capable of “wreaking havoc deep behind enemy lines,” is “built to penetrate enemy airspace,” and is “a hell of a first strike weapon able to take out targets before they even know you’re there.” Obviously, its mission does not include launching most of its weapons while in Vermont. Can anyone reasonably dispute that the F-35 is more for attacking other countries than defending Vermont from attack?

Supporting our soldiers is one thing. Supporting whatever the Air Force wants is another: As 65 percent of voters in Burlington, and as voters in many other Vermont towns said in town meeting votes, we strongly support our soldiers and believe that the best way to support them is to bring each and every one of them home, take good care of them when they get home, and keep them home. Wars like Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan inflict a heavy price on our soldiers — while certain corporations profit. The F-35 program appears to be more consistent with supporting those corporations than with supporting our soldiers.

Jobs: A University of Massachusetts study showed that twice as many jobs are created by spending on health care, education, mass transit, and construction than by spending on weapons. In other words, yes, jobs are created. But for every job created for the F-35 two other jobs are not. Taking all into account, choosing to spend on the F-35 generates fewer jobs and leaves more unemployment.

Freedom from unbearable noise, air pollution, crashes, its trillion dollar cost, and lost jobs all require saying no to the F-35. Freedom from the new wars the F-35 would promote requires saying no. Freedom from corruption at home — as war contractors, like F-35 contractor Lockheed-Martin, use funds from military contracts for electioneering expenditures to purchase support of elected officials for yet more military contracts in an endless vicious cycle — requires saying no.

As former Col. Greco told the public forum on the F-35 at South Burlington High School on May 14, “I am intensely patriotic. I value and I appreciate our military members and the National Guard. That does not mean I support a weapons system such as the F-35. … There are far better basing for the F-35 than in a small state in a small community in a small town. We are sacrificing our town, we are sacrificing our community. In my mind the F-35As do not belong in this area.”

Under Col. Greco’s leadership, the South Burlington City Council has it right. Before the comment period ends June 20, Vermonters in other towns should ask their town councils to join with South Burlington in considering the facts presented by the Air Force in its EIS. And avoid buying into the pseudo-patriotic hype of F-35 supporters designed to divert attention from those facts. And tell the Air Force not to base F-35s in Vermont.

Although James Marc Leas lives in a part of South Burlington that currently enjoys peace and quiet he strongly encourages solidarity with families living near and under the flight-path.

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  • It is not enough for the Burlington Town Council to vote against polluting, noise making F-35s. All nearby towns need to stand together to ban F-35s from Vermont; it can happen.

    Note: the planes has been beset by problems that will require the airport maintenance shop working overtime trying to keep them in the air.

    Leahy, Sanders, Welch and Weinberger have for decades been for almost any programs that bring federal dollars to Vermont to “boost the economy”.

    The dependency on federal dollars has distorted the Vermont economy; an egregious example is the federal subsidies for destroying Vermont’s ridge lines to build 40-story high industrial wind turbine facilities.

    Such federal dollars are not a real boost, as it is based on more federal government borrowing to make it possible.

    A real boost would be increased private investment creating competitive goods and services and good-paying jobs with benefits.

  • Daniel Roberts

    Why should Vermont contribute to the nation’s defense anyway? I propose the ANG move the F-35s over to New Hampshire’s Pease ANG base where they can fly over water for their training and provide a further boost to the NH seacoast economy. As a result Vermont voters can blame Senator Leahy for their putrid economic condition and vote him out office which should have been done a long time ago.

    • William Boardman

      Actually, residents of western Maine
      are apprehensive of the F-35, too,
      and are seeking their own public hearings.

  • Grant Reynolds

    After WW II the new Air Force had far more Army Air Corps bases to choose from than it could use. It adopted as criteria: 10-15 miles from a town of 15-25,000. It began to establish its permanent stateside basing on that basis. Why then Burlington? First, the late fifties fear of Russian bombers with nuclear weapons demanded, it seemed, immediate establishment of fighter air defense, along with primitive ground-based missiles. Burlington Air Force Base, with F-102s, was the result. Flight line was at the airport but Fort Ethan Allen was the cantonment area. But the vision faded as it became apparent that it wasn’t possible to deny all threats of nuclear destruction. The Air Force closed BAFB as part of the phasedown, and shifted the air defense “mission” to the National Guard.
    I put mission in quotes out of no disrespect to the National Guard. They are more competent than the active Air Force, with pilots and with thousands of hours and ground crews with decades of working on the same planes for the same pilots. They’ve displayed their expertise in the Gulf War, Iraq, and Afghanistan. However, the active Air Force still holds the cards. There’s a political demand for an “air defense”, so, give it to the Air National Guard. At 9/11 there was an outburst of horror – where was our air defense? Well, it was a handful of pairs of planes at a few sites on the east coast. None of them were in range of the hijacked airliners when the threat became known. Not the Guard’s fault; there just weren’t enough of them to provide a screen against unknown enemies.
    So why is there still a military presence at Burlington? Another political policy: every state has an Air National Guard flying unit. As you can see, even peace-mongering senators are enthusiastic about having a job-rich flying unit in their state – even if it’s in the middle of the state’s only urban area. While C-130 cargo planes, or rescue helicopters, might be more useful for the state, it’s hard to change a fighter unit to something else. The regular Air Force can do that, because they transfer everyone every few years anyway, and can assign the right mix of specialists. But the Guard is composed of local residents, and retraining them is both costly and may simply drive the volunteer Guardsmen away. So it’s difficult for Vermont Air Guard to be other than a fighter unit.
    My comment on air defense of the United States suggests what the unit has to do: air to air and air to ground, with lots of practice dropping bombs. The F-35 can do both, but it seems that the emphasis is going to be on air to ground. Why not? The F-22 is faster and flies higher, as the F-15 is to the current VANG F-16’s. It will probably be another fighter, and there are only two choices. If the F-35 is noisy, the F-22 is likely to be worse.

  • HooRay, Jimmy! Hit em!

    AND CAN WE PLEASE ALL SMARTEN UP ABOUT WHO AND WHAT SANDERS, LEAHY & WELCH ARE WORKING FOR? Corporations like Lockheed Martin, Monsanto, etc etc……

    These 3 are selling Vermont down the river.

  • Brad Little

    Rosanne Greco states, “thr f-35’s do no belong in this area” …… simple to say , but, where then DO they belong? Where to airports belong? Where do trash incinerators belong? Nuclear power plants? Landfills? Refineries? Prisons? If each locality in each state has the theoretical right to say NO to these kinds of infringement on their environment, then where do they put them…… The idealistic answer is that we don’t need any of them. The unfortunate fate of the idealist is that he/she ultimately is the victim of reality .

    • John Greenberg

      “The unfortunate fate of the idealist is that he/she ultimately is the victim of reality.”

      Reality changes. Sometimes — often, in fact — it’s idealists who change it.

      • William Boardman

        As aggressive weapons of mass destruction,
        F-35s really don’t belong anywhere.

        It’s not as though they represent a reasonable
        response to any credible threat.

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