Greco: F-35A basing flaws include scores, process and arguments

Editor’s note: Roseanne Greco is a retired U.S. Air Force colonel and the chairwoman of the South Burlington City Council.

After reading the scoring sheet and the accompanying background paper, and speaking with the deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force (installations), I’ve come away with new reservations—this time about the process. I’ve maintained mistakes were made in scoring the Burlington Air Guard Station (AGS), which led to Burlington being selected as the preferred base for the F-35A multi-role fighter aircraft. But I had no reason to doubt the process. However, I now conclude that BOTH the scoring data AND the scoring process are flawed. And after reading some public comments, I think the two major arguments in favor of basing–economics and support of our military–are also flawed.

Scoring flaw

The scoring sheet shows the mistake. In simple terms, the questions asked are whether there are any homes in the accident and noise areas. The answer given is “no.” But there are thousands of homes there. Look at the questions, look at the answers, and then look around the airport area. Without a doubt that question was answered incorrectly, and Burlington received more points than it should have. We need the scoring sheets for the other Air Guard bases considered, to see that Burlington was not the top candidate. Unfortunately, the Air Force will not release that data to us without a freedom of information act request.

Process flaw

It was during my conversation with Secretary Kathleen Ferguson, that I learned of process flaws. The Air Force evaluated a base’s suitability for the F-35A in four categories: cost, mission, capacity, and environment. The first category (cost) seemed to be straightforward, as it reflected the cost-of-living in the area. The next two categories (mission and capacity) evaluated whether the base could accommodate the F-35A. It asked whether the airspace and weather in the area would be suitable for the F-35A mission. It asked whether the runway length could accommodate the F-35A. It asked whether the base facilities (maintenance bays, munitions storage and other infrastructure) could accommodate the F-35A.

However, the questions asked in the environmental category were not related to the F-35A. They were related to the existing F-16. The questions were not whether there would be homes and other structures in the accident and noise areas for the F-35A; but whether there are existing homes and structures in the accident and noise areas for the F-16. Of course, the answer to that question is ‘YES’ (see above). The process the AF followed in this scoring is mind-boggling. For two categories (mission and capacity), they evaluated the base’s suitability for the future aircraft–the F-35A; but for one category (environment) they evaluated the base’s suitability for the existing aircraft—the F-16.

Argument flaws

Most of the economic impact arguments made in support of basing the F-35A center around the AGS closing. The implied assumption is that if Burlington is not selected now for the F-35A that the AGS will close. No official has ever said that. This basing process is only the first of several rounds for selecting bases for the F-35A. Burlington could likely be selected in a subsequent round. It’s not a “now or never” proposition. But, even were Burlington not selected to base the F-35A in the future, that does not mean the Burlington AGS will close. Despite F-16 retirement predictions, military aircraft often fly years (sometimes decades) beyond their expected lifespan. But even when the F-16 eventually stops flying, that does not mean the AGS will close. The Guard would likely get another mission. As world threat conditions change, military missions change, and bases get new missions.

Others say that supporting the F-35A shows our patriotism and support for the military. I disagree. Giving the Guard an outlandishly-priced weapon system is not the way to show our appreciation. Giving them pay raises, increasing their benefits, insuring they receive adequate health care, insuring their retirement benefits are not reduced, and above all, trying to keep them out of harm’s way are far better ways to support our military members.

We can show our support for the military by opposing the routine practice of paying for extravagant weapon systems by cutting military personnel benefits, salaries, and jobs. The AF routinely reduces the force (fires) military members in order to use this personnel money to pay for weapons. Supporting the F-35A will make senior defense industry executives richer and the average military member poorer.

With all of the above flaws, and the many unanswered questions, many hope it would prompt our Congressional delegates to re-consider their position on F-35A basing. But at a minimum, I respectfully urge them to at least call for a temporary hold on any decision until the scores and the process are reviewed more thoroughly. Without this detailed examination, doubts will forever linger.

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  • James Leas

    Is there any reason our Senators and Congressman should not act immediately to relieve the Air Force and the Vermont Air National Guard of further embarrassment by withdrawing support for the basing of F-35 bombers in Burlington?

    In an article on June 9, 2012 at
    the Burlington Free Press reported that “the Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Installations Kathleen Ferguson said that the basing process ‘is working as designed and Burlington was accurately scored in 2009.’”

    According to the article, “Ferguson said no ‘identified existing issue’ was found when raters who prepared the scoring sheet checked to see if development existed in the airport’s clear zone, so the airport received top points in that category, too.”

    “Ferguson’s letter to Greco goes on to state that “during the detailed site surveys, it was identified and briefed to Air Force senior leaders that there was some residential encroachment and sensitive noise receptors adjacent to the airfield. This information,” she said, “was considered during the selection of preferred and reasonable alternatives.

    “She did not explain why the scoring sheet showed no issues and gave Burlington top points, if ‘residential encroachment’ in fact exists and was known to the Air Force.

    “An Air Force Pentagon spokeswoman said Monday that Ferguson’s letter was accurate, because the new information showing residential encroachment ‘was discovered in a later stage of the process. The Air Force basing process, the spokeswoman said, ‘is designed to incorporate new and more detailed information as the Air Force gets closer to making its final basing decision.'”

    Thousands of homes are not details. We have the Air Force admitting that its process was designed to not find and include the thousands of houses that could have changed the rating of the Burlington site. The Air Force is admitting that its process was flawed. Having failed to include the noise and crash data about the F-35 from the beginning, to the detriment of the people of Winooski, Burlington, South Burlington, Williston, and Colchester, Vermont Senators, Congressman and Governor should call a time out and not allow the Air Force or the Vermont Air National Guard to proceed with any further steps toward the basing.

    In addition, an independent investigation is needed now to determine how this flawed process was approved and how thousands of houses could be overlooked in the first place.

  • Mary Evslin

    What ever happened to our support of the “common good”? Those planes are not toys given for appreciation. They are machines meant to protect all Americans, not just those of us in northern Vermont. They are machines that require experts to be trained and retrained to use them properly.

    We citizens have given so little during these last wars. The burden had been on our troops. Is some noise too much of a sacrifice for our ordinary citizens? I,for one,am proud that the guard practices over our cities.

    • Alex Barnham

      Where is this supposed enemy? They’re not flying aircraft, they’re passing laws that have torn up the US Constitution.

    • Liz Leyden

      Great! Buy my house! If F35 supporters are so sure the plane will be a good thing for Burlington, they need to put their money where their mouth is and buy homes in Chamberlin.

      Seriously, I’m a renter, but I live in Chamberlin, just outside the 65 dB zone. Homes across the road from me are in the 65 dB zone, and many are abandoned and slated for destruction.

      The noise isn’t really the issue. I’ve lived near an Air Force base and Logan Airport. I’m no stranger to airport noise. However, the FAA has designated homes in the 65 dB zone “incompatible with residential use.” That’s the feds talking, not local homeowners. The designation will have to be disclosed to potential renters or buyers. Long story short, if the F35 comes to South Burlington, a large number of homes in town (and in large parts of Winooski) will be worth a whole lot less.

      FAA grant money allowed the airport to but out a bunch of homeowners and tear down some homes, but the grant money has dried up, so no other homes will be torn down. Large numbers of abandoned homes are attracting vagrants, thieves (copper), and drug dealers.

      I’d like to invite F35 supporters to take a drive through Chamberlin. See the many, many homes slated for demolition. See the many other homes currently for sale. They’re not selling. Consider Chittenden County’s extreme lack of affordable housing. Should we all move to St. Albans?

      After years of renting, I’m finally able to buy my first home. I love my neighborhood, but I won’t be buying here. Why buy a home you know will depreciate in value, especially if local development will make your home impossible to sell?

      Rosemary Greco’s job is to represent the people of South Burlington, including the thousands of residents living near the airport. It’s nice to see that someone doesn’t consider my neighborhood expendable. If the F35 was slated to fly over the million-dollar homes in the Southwest Corridor, the idea would’ve been shot down in 5 minutes.

  • Brad Little

    I am 65 yrs old …..grew up in a time period when communities were proud to “be the home ” of this or that Air Force base, Naval facility,etc. ….. There were noise issues, safety issues then as now , but not the ability to analyze them and debate the overall need to the point of infinite gridlock.
    Now …..we question everyone’s motive and no one wants any of it in THEIR backyard. With all do respect Col. Greco, the military are deserving of all the quality of life issues you enumerated, but I want our military to have the absolute best weapons systems available as well….no matter the cost. Are not our senior commanders the best determiners of what it is that we need to do to be prepared to fight the battles that politicians get us involved in?

    • Christian Noll

      Mr. Little thanks but World War II is over.

      Times have changed since then.

      The military is here to preserve the peace, not destroy it.

      I don’t feel I’m any less “patriotic” than the next guy just because I don’t want my property values to be decreased by the detrimental noise of a $135 million dollar air craft designed to kill people.

      In fact I feel it is my patriotic duty to warn Americans of the same thing the late General and President Dwight D. Eisenhower warned us of during his farwell speech which if my memory serves me, was Jan 17th 1962.

      If we can’t learn from our past, we WILL relive it.

      I don’t know that we would survive it though.

      • Alex Barnham

        If I might add, USMC General Smedley Butler, the most decorated soldier of his time, spoke out against the military and I consider him one of the most daring and patriotic soldier of all time. Research this amazing gentleman and take off the blinders that are ruining our ability to stand as a world leader and not as a world bully.

        • Christian Noll

          Alex thanks,

          Yes I purchased Smedley’s book years ago. I even posted his cover “War is a Racket” on my Twitter page.

          I too heard he’s the highest decorated Marine Corps General in History. My “blinders” are off believe me.

          The US HAS become somewhat of a “World Bully” and I can’t understand why the American public actually thinks is justified under the notion of “Defense” or “Security.”

      • Brad Little

        WW2 is over indeed …… Was over a year before I was born. A war that we were Ill prepared to enter in terms of military equipment and manpower. President Eisenhower ( who I had the pleasure of meeting ) also said in that very same speech ( January 1961 ) ” A vital element in keeping the peace is our military establishment. Our arms must be mighty, ready for instant action, so that no potential aggressor may be tempted to risk his own destruction.”. Times have indeed changed… is amazing, costly, and , at times frightening. PROPLE have not changed……perhaps that is most frightening. Saying the purpose of the military is to “preserve the peace, not destroy it” is a bit twisted….. It has never been the desire of our military to “destroy peace” …. Sort of like saying the purpose of the fire department is to prevent fires not start them. BUT….if a fire is in progress wouldn’t we all want the fire department to have the best of equipment available to fight it? Yes the F35 is a machine designed to kill people ….specifically the guy flying the fighter trying to kill the guy flying the F35. The only way you can stop the “one upsmanship” in the deveopment of weapons is by putting an end to all war………good luck with that…..check the history!

    • Liz Leyden

      Do you want it in your backyard?

  • Jed Guertin

    Dear Mary,

    How to respond to your comment?

    First, it’s important to recognize that you’re asking your “patriotic” question to a RETIRED USAF COLONEL. I’m sure that Colonel Greco is pleased to know that you’re proud of her service to our country and that of her fellow members of the military. But, President Bush made the same statement and hid behind the troops waving the flag. Then in his second term he began cutting needed health and social services for those same troops.

    Colonel Greco stated clearly what we need to do, and it’s not simply by doing a little patriotic jaw flapping. “We can show our support for the military by opposing the routine practice of paying for extravagant weapon systems by cutting military personnel benefits, salaries, and jobs. The AF routinely reduces the force (fires) military members in order to use this personnel money to pay for weapons. Supporting the F-35A will make senior defense industry executives richer and the average military member poorer.”

    Second, you and I luckily don’t live near the airport, so we’re not really showing our “support for the Military” as those who are close to the airport, are we. It’s definitely not a sacrifice you and I are making. But in your question, “Is some noise too much of a sacrifice for our ordinary citizens?” Can you tell me whom you’re referring to in “our ordinary citizens” and why they alone should make the sacrifice?

    Third, you totally ignored the retired colonel’s point that the process was flawed and attacked her on her patriotism. Why?

    • Alex Barnham

      The US military is supposing that we are all failed students and cannot make heads nor tails of anything they say.

  • If we provide for the military without regard to the cost then we become a nation that exists solely for the military. That is not a good thing.