After reading the scoring sheet and the accompanying background paper, and speaking with the Deputy Assistant Secretary of the AF (Installations), I’ve come away with new reservations—this time about the process.
I’ve maintained mistakes were made in scoring the Burlington Air Guard Station (AGS), which led to Burlington being selected as the preferred base for the F-35A multi-role fighter aircraft. But I had no reason to doubt the process. However, I now conclude that BOTH the scoring data AND the scoring process are flawed. And after reading some public comments, I think the two major arguments in favor of basing–economics and support of our military–are also flawed.
The scoring sheet shows the mistake. 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. Look at the questions, look at the answers, and then look around the airport area. Without a doubt that question was answered incorrectly, and Burlington received more points than it should have. We need the scoring sheets for the other Air Guard bases considered, to see that Burlington was not the top candidate. Unfortunately, the AF will not release that data to us without a freedom of information act request.
It was during my conversation with Secretary Ferguson, that I learned of process flaws. The AF evaluated a base’s suitability for the F-35A in four categories: cost, mission, capacity, and environment. The first category (cost) seemed to be straightforward, as it reflected the cost-of-living in the area. The next two categories (mission and capacity) evaluated whether the base could accommodate the F-35A. It asked whether the airspace and weather in the area would be suitable for the F-35A mission. It asked whether the runway length could accommodate the F-35A. It asked whether the base facilities (maintenance bays, munitions storage and other infrastructure) could accommodate the F-35A.
However, the questions asked in the environmental category were not related to the F-35A. They were related to the existing F-16. The questions were not whether there would be homes and other structures in the accident and noise areas for the F-35A; but whether there are existing homes and structures in the accident and noise areas for the F-16. Of course, the answer to that question is ‘YES’ (see above). The process the AF followed in this scoring is mind-boggling. For two categories (mission and capacity), they evaluated the base’s suitability for the future aircraft–the F-35A; but for one category (environment) they evaluated the base’s suitability for the existing aircraft—the F-16.
Most of the economic impact arguments made in support of basing the F-35A center around the AGS closing. The implied assumption is that if Burlington is not selected now for the F-35A that the AGS will close. No official has ever said that. This basing process is only the first of several rounds for selecting bases for the F-35A. Burlington could likely be selected in a subsequent round. It’s not a “now or never” proposition. But, even were Burlington not selected to base the F-35A in the future, that does not mean the Burlington AGS will close. Despite F-16 retirement predictions, military aircraft often fly years (sometimes decades) beyond their expected lifespan. But even when the F-16 eventually stops flying, that does not mean the AGS will close. The Guard would likely get another mission. As world threat conditions change, military missions change, and bases get new missions.
Others say that supporting the F-35A shows our patriotism and support for the military. I disagree. Giving the Guard an outlandishly-priced weapon 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.
We can show our support for the military by opposing the routine practice of paying for extravagant weapon systems by cutting military personnel benefits, salaries, and jobs. The AF routinely reduces the force (fires) military members in order to use this personnel money to pay for weapons. Supporting the F-35A will make senior defense industry executives richer and the average military member poorer.
With all of the above flaws, and the many unanswered questions, many hope it would prompt our Congressional delegates to re-consider their position on F-35A basing. But at a minimum, I respectfully urge them to at least call for a temporary hold on any decision until the scores and the process are reviewed more thoroughly. Without this detailed examination, doubts will forever linger.
Colonel Rosanne M. Greco, USAF, (ret)
South Burlington, VT
8 July 2012