F-35 Base Catching Flak in Vermont from Retired Colonel

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The Pentagon wants to base F-35 fighter jets in Burlington, Vermont and has support from much of the political establishment. But determined grassroots opposition, helped by local city councils, may be winning the fight.

Media reports typically refer to her blandly as the chair of the South Burlington, Vermont, city council, but Rosanne Greco isn’t your garden variety small town official, she’s a retired U.S. Air Force colonel accustomed to analyzing complex military matters for the Pentagon – and now she’s analyzed the Air Force plan to base F-35 nuclear-capable, stealth fighters in Burlington and she says the whole decision-making process should be shot down.

Greco has been ahead of the curve of opposition to having the F-35 based in Vermont at least since May 21, when she led the South Burlington city council to vote 4-1 against basing the advanced but troubled fighter degrading the region.  So far, South Burlington is the only local government to take a stand on the F-35, as the other immediate neighbors of the Burlington International Airport have voted to ask for more information.

Using her familiarity with the Air Force, Greco took the initiative seeking out information on her own and issued an opinion paper in which she explains why she now concludes “that BOTH the scoring AND the scoring process are flawed….I think the two major arguments in favor of basing – economics and support of our military – are also flawed.”

In recent weeks, public protest against the F-35 has been loud and strenuous, but Vermont’s Congressional delegation, governor, and other titular leaders have fallen dutifully into line without asking any serious questions.

Now Greco offers a devastating critique of the Air Force decision-making process that goes a long way to confirming the public challengers and undermining those who reflexively supported the military expansion.

A week ago Greco first raised questions about the scoring method that led to Burlington being a choice spot to base the F-35.  The Air Force vigorously disputed her assertions, but did not release the data that could have answered the question.  What the Air Force did release was a statement containing a non-denial denial, saying they were “confident the final information provided in the Environmental Impact Statement will lead to a well-informed decision.”

Greco makes the issue clear:  “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.”

Indeed, there are thousands of homes whose residents will be disturbed by the increased noise from the F-35.  There are thousands of homes whose residents live where an F-35 crash is most likely.  But the Air Force has apparently decided, officially, that these homes and these people don’t actually exist.

Greco also outlines what she calls a “process flaw,” referring to the four criteria the Air Force used to find that Burlington would be a good place to base F-35s – cost, mission, capacity, and environment.  Cost appears not to be an issue, being based on local cost-of living.   Likewise mission and capacity seem to be straight-forward assessments of the Burlington airspace and weather, the runway length, munitions storage space, maintenance bays, and other infrastructure, which have some but not great limitations.

Greco says the Air Force asked these questions in relation to the F-35, but asked questions about the environment in relation to a totally different plane, the F-16 that is currently based in Burlington.  She concludes that: “The process the AF [Air Force] followed in this scoring is mind-boggling.”

Responding to the discovery of homes and people that the Air Force missed, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Air Force Kathleen Ferguson wrote to Greco, acknowledging that “it was identified and briefed to Air Force senior leaders that there was some residential encroachment and sensitive noise receptors adjacent to the airfield.”  She did not indicate what, if anything, those senior leaders would do about those homes, people, or Orwellian language.

The third point in Greco’s analysis of the Air Force’s performance had to do with the speciousness of arguments by Air Force personnel and other supporters. One argument bandied like a threat by Vermont Adjutant General Michael Dubie and others has been that, without the F-35, the base in Burlington might close and hurt the area economy.

“No official has ever said that….  It’s not a ‘now or never’ proposition,” wrote Greco, drawing on her years at the Pentagon to describe an on-going, dynamic process involving the F-35, a process likely to continue for years after the plane is first deployed at some as yet undetermined date years in the future.

Another, even more widespread argument is that it’s our patriotic duty to make sacrifices for the sake of the F-35, the military, the country – an argument that usually comes from people who won’t be sacrificing their own homes or eardrums.

“Others say that supporting the F-35A shows our patriotism and support for the military.  I disagree,” the Air Force veteran answers. “Giving the [Vermont National] Guard an outlandishly priced weapons-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.”

The F-35 is currently a decade behind schedule and 100 per cent over budget, having cost some $400 billion so far.  Deployment and use is expected to cost another $1 trillion between now and 2050.   The Air Force and the Government Accounting Office cannot predict when the system will work, never mind be ready for deployment.

“Supporting the F-35A will make senior defense industry executives richer and the average military member poorer,” Greco noted.  She concluded with a call for a temporary hold on any basing decision, and the hope that her information might prompt the political leadership in Vermont to take a harder look at the supportive positions they’ve taken.