Leas: F-35 decision-making process repeatable, defendable and transparent? Not

Editor’s note: This commentary is by James Marc Leas, a patent lawyer in South Burlington.

I was floored by Vermont Air National Guard spokesman Capt. Chris Gookin ‘s remark on Vermont Public Radio on Sept. 26: “The takeaway,” Gookin said, “is that we remain confident in the decision-making process because the decision-making process — it’s repeatable, it’s defendable and it’s transparent.”

If only it was so. Capt. Gookin’s statement defending the decision-making process actually highlights its illegitimacy.

In the spirit of the “transparency” he describes, will Capt. Gookin obtain and release the transcript of Sen. Patrick Leahy’s phone conversation with Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh that was reported in the Burlington Free Press on Sept. 5?  This transcript is likely to reveal the intense pressure Sen. Leahy exerted on the Air Force to reverse its decision to delay basing at any of the Air National Guard sites and to select Burlington as the preferred site for operational basing F-35 warplanes in the very first basing round.

Also in the spirit of “transparency,” will he seek release of the unredacted scoring sheets for all the bases considered so the true extent of the “fudging” reported by Pentagon insiders can be considered by the public? Pentagon insiders told the Boston Globe that “the base-selection process was deliberately ‘fudged’ by military brass so that Leahy’s home state would win.” They said that “Unfortunately, Burlington was selected even before the scoring process began.”

Will Capt. Gookin explain how a decision that is based not on facts, not on military judgment, and not on operational needs, but purely on pressure from Sen. Leahy, the most senior senator in the U.S. Senate, the senator with heaviest influence over the Air Force budget, can be called “defendable”?

At the moment the military brass fudged the scoring sheets the military brass acknowledged that fudging was needed. If the brass thought that they could get Burlington into the final process without fudging they would not have fudged. For the process to be “repeatable,” fudging would again be needed. Is Capt. Gookin actually admitting that the process remains corrupt?

The takeaway actually is that the decision-making was illegitimate and the process remains illegitimate.

Regardless of the decision foisted upon the Air Force by Sen. Leahy, the F-35 basing can be stopped. It is far from being a done deal. That is because the decision is not only up to the Air Force. There is another decision-maker.

As owner and operator of the airport, the City of Burlington can put some legitimacy back into the process. It can pass a resolution stating that it will use its authority as landowner, pursuant to lease and runway sharing agreements it has with the Air Force, to prevent its tenant from basing F-35 jets at its airport. Passage of such a resolution will likely be enough for the Air Force to reconsider its basing options and deselect Burlington, at least from the first basing round.

A resolution saying just that will be up for a vote at the Oct. 7 Burlington City Council meeting. The council chair has set a special public comment period to debate F-35 basing that begins at 6 p.m. Everyone is urged to come out and attend this meeting. A lively rally on the Church Street steps of City Hall begins at 5:30 sharp. Several city councilors supporting the resolution to stop F-35 basing in Burlington will speak.

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  • I hope your readership has some grasp on the fact that 12 years after Lockheed Martin winning the JSF competition giving us today’s F-35, that there are no credible, working mission systems on the aircraft. Also that by virtue of its’ flawed design requirement, it will be too weak to take on emerging threats and too expensive to own and operate for lesser threats handled by today’s aircraft types. So, before people worry about where it will be based, they have to first understand that the aircraft design has several, significant, show-stopping problems.