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Secretary Austin: Ground the F-35!

The DoD delayed important F-35 fighter jet testing which could further delay production. Tell Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to ground the F-35 and halt the program permanently! 

Dear Secretary Austin, 

We, the undersigned are calling for a cancellation of the F-35 program, an end to F-35 training in residential areas like South Burlington, Vermont and Madison, Wisconsin, and a reinvestment of the project’s funds to life affirming programs. We are making these demands based on the harm caused abroad, cost of the program to the taxpayer, inefficiencies and failures, the environmental impact of F-35s, and the effects training has on local communities. We are writing to you today because of the DoD's recent announcement that they are further delaying important F-35 testing. This program has been too costly to the taxpayer and not worth the investment. We encourage you to do everything in your power to urge President Biden and other relevant parties to work together to cancel the program in its entirety. 

HARM CAUSED THROUGH MILITARISM

We primarily stand firmly against the F-35 as a weapon of war. Although not ready for full-scale production, the U.S. intends on producing countless F-35s to sell around the world that will without a doubt be used to harm people living in the Global South. F-35s have the capacity to carry nuclear weapons, and the deployment of these jets only aids nuclear proliferation. The U.S. already makes up 40% of the global arms trade, aiding and abetting war crimes all over the world. Israel is procuring F-35’s from the United States which have already been used to launch airstrikes on Gaza  to further Israel’s goals of ethnic cleansing and displacement in Palestine. Saudi Arabia has expressed interest in F-35s as well as the UAE while both countries wage a brutal war on Yemen. The F-35 is a disaster of a project, but also  a potential disaster for humanity. 

INEFFICIENCIES AND FAILURES

The F-35 spending is becoming impossible for important members of Congress to justify. The Chair of the House Armed Services Committee, Rep. Adam Smith called the F-35 a “rathole.” Another member of HASC, Rep. John Garamendi had some scathing comments about the F-35 in a HASC subcommittee hearing in May: 

“For the contractors out there, what are you doing? Why can’t you give us a piece of equipment that actually works? You should never have a contract. And for Lockheed, you want a five-year maintenance contract? You can’t do what you’re doing today. Come on. What are we thinking? If I have not adequately expressed my frustration, I would assume that my frustration is less than the frustration of the pilots and the maintainers out there. … The primary maintenance responsibility on this is Lockheed and you gentlemen.”

The Government Accountability Office said the F-35 “continues to fall short of prescribed mission-capable rates and is consistently missing reliability targets”. According to the GAO, the F-35A in 2021 was fully mission capable 50% of the time, while the F-35B was fully mission capable less than 20 percent of the time. The F-35c was only capable 9.5% of the time. 

The signatories call attention to the failures of the program to address harmful projects seeing never ending investment while programs that protect people such as universal healthcare never see the light of day. 

COST TO THE TAXPAYER

The failures of the program make the spending impossible to justify, even from a militaristic standpoint. The F-35 program is the Department of Defense’s most expensive weapon system program. As of now, the F-35’s projected total cost is $1.7 trillion, which includes $1.3 trillion in estimated operations and sustainment over 66 years.  The F-35 is horribly behind schedule, experiencing massive cost overruns with maintenance costs doubling.  The F-35 is not ready for full scale production. According to the GAO, “if DOD moves forward as planned, it will have bought a third of all F-35s before determining that the aircraft is ready to move into full-rate production.” Spending billions to trillions of dollars on a plane that is not yet up to speed with what the government has requested is poor fiscal policy. 

ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT

F-35s also have a significant impact on the environment with their high carbon emissions and pollution on local bases. The F-35 uses a significant amount of fuel – about 2.37 gallons of fuel for every mile traveled and around 1,340 gallons of fuel per hour. This is particularly egregious compared to the F-35’s predecessor, the F-16, which used at least 415 gallons of fuel per hour less. One single F-35 tank of gas produces the equivalent of 28 metric tons of carbon dioxide. These emissions heavily pollute air and water sources in basing locations in the U.S. and abroad. Base site construction for F-35 training in the U.S. has also disregarded the need for environmental remediation of pre-existing contaminants such as PFAS, risking further pollution of surrounding communities. F35 pollution is an environmental justice issue, as they are disproportionately tested, trained, and deployed in low-income communities of color.

These environmental impacts do not even account for the role of the plane in active combat. As they’re deployed around the world, we see Lockheed Martin’s jets subjecting communities globally to egregious noise levels, environmental contamination, and the risk of nuclear warfare. The F-35 is also a part of the U.S. strategic nuclear bomber force, possessing the capability to carry and deploy the B61-12 guided nuclear bomb. If deployed, this bomb - and all other nuclear weapons - would have catastrophic long-term environmental consequences.

EFFECT ON U.S. LOCALS

Currently, F-35 training in Vermont disrupts the lives of working-class people. The training is irregular and Vermonters go without warning of when these trainings will take place.  The noise caused by the F-35 hits 115 decibels which especially hurts and injures infants and children, the elderly, and the disabled. The F-35 has 300 to 600 takeoffs and landings a month. 

Let’s consider the City of Winooski, VT. More than half the city is within the US Air Force designated 5.2 mile by 1.2 mile oval-shaped F-35 noise target zone centered on the runway. Winooski is a working-class city, the most densely populated in Vermont, with the state’s most ethnic diversity. As reported by the US Air Force itself in 2013, repeated exposure to military aircraft noise at the level of the F-35, can damage hearing. The Air Force also reported that the much lower aircraft noise level produced by civilian aircraft was still sufficient to impair the learning and cognitive development of children living in the flight path of heavily used commercial airports. The US Air Force identified the entire oval-shaped noise target zone as an area “generally considered unsuitable for residential use.” So it was no secret for the state’s political and military leaders that locating the F-35 at BTV would cause pain and injury to children and adults on a mass scale. In Madison, where the F-35’s are likely to end up starting in the next few years, Physicians for Social Responsibility Wisconsin has identified the following risks to children as a result of loud noise and air pollution:

  • Preterm or low birth weights
  • Delayed speech development
  • Hearing loss
  • Interference with concentration, long term memory, reading and math comprehension

In addition, adults as well as children would face increased risk of:

  • Stress hormones that cause sleep disturbances
  • Anxiety
  • PTSD
  • Asthma
  • Cancer
  • Heart disease
  • Strokes 

For all the aforementioned reasons, we reject the government’s reckless over investment in the F-35 program and demand its immediate cancellation. The costs of this program to the taxpayer, the environment, local communities, and the communities upon which the US and its allies will wage war are too high to justify. It is time for the government to prioritize the welfare of human beings and the planet over military superiority and the weapons industry’s profits.

We call on our policy makers to cancel the F-35 program, cancel training within the U.S. and reinvest that money into universal healthcare, student debt forgiveness, housing guarantees and more.

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