By John Briggs
Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., wrote Tuesday to a constituent that the F-35 program is “poorly managed” and “a textbook example of how not to buy military equipment.”
Leahy’s letter reflects closer scrutiny of the F-35 in budget-conscious Washington because of its rapidly increasing cost. A March 11 update from the Government Accountability Office, which monitors spending of public money for Congress, said the program will cost “$12.5 billion a year through 2037.”
The GAO said the program, designed to provide a new warplane for the Marines, Air Force and Navy, “is nearing $400 billion to develop and procure 2,457 aircraft through 2037.” The plane has experienced frequent engineering and design problems leading to delays in deployment, additional expense for retesting and the GAO said the three services have spent about $8 billion to keep warplanes such as the F-16s based at Burlington International Airport in service while development work on the F-35 continues.
Leahy has joined Sen. Bernie Sanders,I-Vt., and Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., in supporting the basing of the F-35A at the Burlington Air Guard station, despite local concerns that it will be up to four times louder than the F-16s. Airport noise has led to the need under FAA guidelines to purchase and raze homes near the airport.
Leahy’s letter to Christopher Hurd, a member of the Stop the F-35 coalition, said 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 said he believes it unlikely the program will be canceled.
“I don’t think ‘one size fits all,’ monolithic, ultra-expensive equipment is what our troops need,” Leahy continued in the letter, “but enacting a change to the F-35 program at this stage will require the support of a majority of members of Congress.”
Leahy spokesman David Carle said Leahy’s letter reflects “long-held views” about the cost of the F-35. Carle added that Leahy “has not backed away from strenuous oversight of wasteful spending in the overall program just because he supports F-35 basing in Vermont.”
He said that even if other services should drop the F-35, the Air Force will not: “As far as the Air Force is concerned the decision already has been made, and the F-35 is the Air Force’s future.” That being the case, Carle said, “Senator Leahy’s preference is for Vermont’s Air Guard to be a part of the Air Force’s future, with basing in Vermont, for the many strategic reasons that led the Air Force to consider Vermont basing in the first place.”
Hurd said he is gratified that Leahy “has acknowledged the massive problems” of the plane’s cost and development. “Finally!” he said. “However, this does not exonerate Sen. Leahy from his responsibility to hold public hearings” to discuss the basing of the plane at the Burlington airport … He needs to be accountable.”