By Kirk Carapezza
Some of the opponents of an Air Force proposal to base the next generation F-35 fighter jet in Vermont are sincerely hoping a letter sent by Sen. Patrick Leahy on Tuesday might indicate a striking shift in his views on the Pentagon’s program.
As a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Leahy has been a major proponent for South Burlington being considered for the basing of the F-35 despite noise concerns raised in the Air Force’s draft Environmental Impact Statement.
In a letter responding to South Burlington resident Chris Hurd, a residential real estate agent who staunchly opposes the F-35, Leahy says the Joint Fighter program is a “textbook example of how not to buy military equipment.” Projected to cost nearly $400 billion, the F-35 is already the world’s most expensive weapon system and has been delayed repeatedly for technical problems.
“I believe the F-35 program is approaching a point where the military services and a majority of Congress will recognize that the jet is just too costly to proceed with purchases at today’s planned levels,” Leahy writes, adding that the Pentagon may opt to reduce the total number of F-35s that it plans to buy. “I do not believe, because of the huge sums taxpayers have already invested and because the F-35 is our only next-generation aircraft presently in development, that a majority of Congress or military leaders will support terminating the program entirely.”
Hurd and other F-35 critics in Vermont said Tuesday Leahy’s language marks a major change in his previous stance.
“Senator Leahy has been a leading proponent of the most expensive military project in United States history – the F35,” Hurd said. “He has never come out against the F-35 until today.”
Leahy’s office, however, said the letter doesn’t present a new position on the Pentagon’s mismanagement of the overall program. In fact, spokesman David Carle explained the correspondence reflects Leahy’s “long-held” views.
“For years he has been concerned about management of the program, which has been rife with development and procurement problems,” Carle said. “He has not backed away from strenuous oversight of wasteful spending in the overall program just because he supports F-35 basing in Vermont.”
Leahy, Sen. Bernie Sanders, Gov. Peter Shumlin, and Congressman Peter Welch have maintained that the question of whether the Pentagon buys the F-35 is separate from where it will be based.