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Air Force: Vt. in line to receive F-35s

Sep. 25, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
The Vermont Air National Guard has won its bid to obtain a squadron of new F-35 fighter jets, according to a report.
The Vermont Air National Guard has won its bid to obtain a squadron of new F-35 fighter jets, according to a report. (Lockheed Martin)
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The Vermont Air National Guard has won its bid to obtain a squadron of new F-35 fighter jets, the Burlington Free Press has learned.

“I can confirm on record that Burlington AGS remains the preferred alternative for the first ANG operational bed-down location,” Nicholas M. Germanos, the project manager for studies on F-35 basing, wrote in an email to the newspaper Wednesday.

In military jargon, the acronym AGS means Air Guard Station, and ANG is Air National Guard.

A final Environmental Impact Statement, scheduled to be released Oct. 4, is expected to contain language affirming Burlington as the Air Force’s preferred site for an Air Guard squadron of F-35s.

The Vermont Air Guard facility beat out Guard sites in South Carolina and Florida for the F-35 designation.

Barring an 11th-hour reversal by Air Force decision-makers, the statement means the Vermont Air National Guard base at Burlington International Airport will begin flying 18-24 of the next-generation planes by 2020, possibly sooner.

The campaign to win the F-35 designation from the Air Force has been the subject of intense competition in Air Guard circles for years, as well as a source of heated opposition from an array of local politicians and activists.

Vermont National Guard officials have argued that the Air Guard’s F-16s are near the end of their useful lives and, unless they are replaced by F-35s, the Air Guard’s role in the nation’s air defense system would be at risk.

Gov. Peter Shumlin, the state’s congressional delegation and Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger all have said repeatedly they support bringing the F-35s to Vermont.

Earlier this month, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., the Senate’s most senior member, confirmed he spoke by phone to Air Force Chief of Staff Mark Welsh to stress the importance of moving ahead with a decision favorable to Burlington.

Opponents of the F-35, citing data in a draft Air Force environmental impact statement, have complained the planes’ noise will render more homes near the airport unsuitable for residential use and cause cognitive impairments for children. Last week the opponents also raised concerns about environmental, health and safety risks to the community if one of the planes crashes.

Opponents include the Winooski City Council, several state lawmakers and a group led by South Burlington City Councilor Rosanne Greco, a retired Air Force colonel.

A final report analyzing the environmental impact of basing the planes at the Vermont Air Guard’s facility at Burlington International Airport is due to be released Oct. 4.

A draft version of the report, issued last year, ranked the Burlington site behind Guard facilities in South Carolina and Florida on environmental factors. Still, the same report designated Burlington as the preferred operational site. The study contained several misstatements favorable to Burlington that later had to be corrected.

One of the F-35’s critics, South Burlington City Councilor Rosanne Greco, told the Burlington Free Press last week that the report would be released Oct. 4. Asked by the Burlington Free Press about Greco’s contention, the Pentagon denied that it planned to release the report on that date.

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