The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is still unproven and has too many safety and budgetary concerns for the Air Force to move forward with plans to locate the jet at an Air National Guard base in a densely populated area within the next two years.
A preliminary decision to place the F-35A Lightning II with the Vermont Air National Guard at the Burlington International Airport is irresponsible, Project On Government Oversight Executive Director Danielle Brian said in a letter to Acting Air Force Secretary Eric K. Fanning and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III. The pending decision, which is expected any day, should be delayed, Brian wrote.
Air Force reassurances that the F-35A is safe to fly out of residential areas is based on a misleading claim that the jet will have logged 750,000 flying hours by the time it begins to “beddown” in Burlington in 2015. That estimate includes total flying time of all three F-35 variants, despite the fact that the variants share only 25 percent “commonality,” meaning they are three very different types of aircraft.
The actual amount of flying time that the F-35A is projected to have logged is likely much lower than the Air Force claims. An internal Air Force email obtained by POGO states that the F-35A will have logged only 28,000 hours of testing and only about 300,000 hours of training and operational flying by 2020. Pierre Sprey, a POGO founding adviser and one of the architects of the A-10 and F-16 aircraft, puts the number of flying hours likely logged by 2020 closer to 100,000.
The Air Force and Navy typically station new fighter aircraft in desert locations or near the ocean away from residential communities. Yet, Burlington Airport is surrounded by several residential communities. Placing the F-35A in a residential area so early in its development puts lives at risk, Brian said.
POGO is also concerned that budget constraints will delay the F-35A’s testing schedule.
“It is irresponsible for the Air Force to rush the beddown of the still unproven Joint Strike Fighter in a residential community,” Brian said.
Follow the link to read POGO’s letter.