PENTAGON GROUNDS F-35 YET AGAIN, VERMONTERS WORK TO KEEP IT
By William Boardman Email address removed"> Email address removed
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F-35 nuclear-capable stealth fighter by F-16.net
Grounded yet again by the Pentagon as unsafe to fly, the Air Force's most expensive warplane, the experimental F-35 nuclear-capable stealth bomber is under increasing attack around the country, but especially in Vermont where citizens trying to protect local health and welfare are taking actions against the Air Force in federal court, in the state legislature, and before a state environmental board.
[Note: On Feb. 28, 2013, F-35 once more "cleared for flight." According to the official statement: "The engine in question is part of the F-35 test aircraft fleet, and had been operated at extreme parameters in its mission to expand the F-35 flight envelope. Prolonged exposure to high levels of heat and other operational stressors on this specific engine were determined to be the cause of the crack." Sounds like it cracks under stress.]
The F-35, a weapon of mass destruction with a lifetime cost of $1.5 trillion dollars, has already cost the U.S. some $400 billion and is considered a target of opportunity by some budget cutters and deficit reducers. With the March 1 sequester focusing minds across the federal government, a fancy warplane plane with outdated technology and an obsolete mission, is looking like an easy way to save more than $500 billion, especially if it can't fly anyway.
Others suggest that the world's most expensive weapons system is "Too Big to Kill, even though it's a decade behind schedule and 100% over budget, with both measures getting worse. And as the Pentagon acknowledges, the country would be getting less for its money with the final plane, since it can't meet its promised performance specifications. For the second time in a year, the Pentagon has lowered F-35 specs to a level the brass hope the plane will be able to meet. .
And even as some national media like Time bring more attention to the failures of the F-35 program to live up to its promise in performance, cost, or delivery, a group of dedicated Vermonters are fighting their state and federal leadership to prevent hundred of Vermont homes from being destroyed as surely as if the F-35 had bombed them into oblivion.
Air Force Refuses to Reveal Relevant Data
For almost a year, the Air Force has refused to reveal relevant data that it used to pick Burlington, Vermont, as one of its top choices for basing the F-35, even though the Air Force's own published analysis demonstrates that Burlington will suffer more than any other location socially, economically, and environmentally from any F-35 base established at the Burlington Airport, which is owned by Burlington, but actually located in two other cities that have no say in how it's run.
For almost a year, Vermonters have appealed to the state's Congressional delegation, all Democrats, to meet with them, review the issues, get the hidden data from the Air Force. Both U.S. Senators, Patrick Leahy and Bernie Sanders, as well as Vermont's lone Congressman Peter Welch, have all endorsed the F-35 without showing any detailed understanding of the program. They have all refused to meet with opponents who have spent years studying the issue. They have been unwilling or unable to shake loose the information the Air Force holds secret.
Now the issue is before the United States District Court for the District of Vermont, where four plaintiffs are asking a federal judge to order the Air Force to release the relevant material. The complaint describes a pattern of Air Force stonewalling since the plaintiffs' first Freedom of Information Act (FOIA, 5 U.S.C. 552) request in mid-September 2012, as the Air Force, delayed, missed its own promised deadlines, and ultimately denied the request, and then repeated the pattern when considering the plaintiffs' appeal.
With the Air Force saying it would decide the F-35 decision in the near future, the plaintiffs waited till mid-February for a decision on their FOIA request appeal. Having heard nothing further from the Air Force since mid-December, the parties took their case to federal court.
Comparison Depends on Seeing All Scoring Sheets
Although the Air Force provided some material in the plaintiffs' initial request, the Air Force has refused to comply with this part of the request: