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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