Editor's note: This commentary is by Roger Bourassa, of Colchester, who served in the Marines and is a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel. He flew in the F-89, the C-97, and the F-101 and flew all over the world including several missions to Vietnam.
[A] recent letter to a South Burlington newspaper from a retired Air Force colonel who claims to be an expert on base closings predicts the worst for the Vermont Air National Guard (VTANG) if the F-35A takes a pass on this first round of basing. He predicts a closing of the Guard and a local economic recession while offering nothing to support these claims.
A lawsuit against the secretary of the Air Force is on the docket for later this spring in the Federal District Court in Rutland concerning this issue. The decision may result in a reconsideration by the Air Force on basing the F-35 at VTANG.
The primary arguments used by supporters of the F-35A basing are that opponents are either, 1) unpatriotic and anti-military and, 2) without the F-35A, VTANG would be without a mission. The first argument is plain nonsense. There are many veterans numbered among the opponents to the basing of the F-35A, many of whom have served their country with honor with some serving during wartime, including Vietnam.
The second argument is without evidence and, to the contrary, is challenged by official Air Force statements. The Air Force Revised Environmental Impact Statement (RDEIS) states “… if there is no F-35A operational bed-down at Burlington the current mission would continue” (RDEIS Page PA-47). No public official (military, government, or politician) has EVER said the base will close if the F-35A is not based here.
So if the F-35A beddown decision is ever reversed, the most likely scenario to happen is that VTANG will continue to fly the F-16 until 2030.
The RDEIS further states there would be no economic gain with 18 F-35A based here. There would be no increase in jobs (Page BR4-77). Both former Adjutant General Dubie and current Adjutant General Cray said in a press conferences in July 2012 and July 2013, respectively, that if the F-35A does not come here, VTANG “may” get smaller. Gen. Dubie also said that the Air Guard would “lose” maintainer jobs if the F-35A were to be based here (public hearing, April 19, 2010). At least half of the full-time Vermont Air Guard jobs are maintainer jobs. The F-35A, other than daily and minor operational maintenance, will not be maintained at the Burlington Air Guard station, as is currently with the F-16, resulting in fewer maintenance jobs.
In April 2013, the Air Force announced it was upgrading all of the F-16s to keep them flying until the F-35A is fully operational. It also stated it intends to keep the F-16s flying until at least 2030. So if the F-35A beddown decision is ever reversed, the most likely scenario to happen is that VTANG will continue to fly the F-16 until 2030. There are also other potential missions for the Air Guard, including other Air Force aircraft, drones, anti-terrorism missions, and cyber security, all of which will not have the excessive noise levels of the F-35A.
The most likely scenario is that VTANG continues flying the F-16 until 2030 when the F-16 reaches retirement age (as the Air Force noted in its Environmental Impact Statement).
Defense missions will change, but one thing stays constant: Each state has always continued to host a unit of the Air National Guard.