Now that it's decided that F-35s are coming to Vermont, here is what you need to know about the jets, the basing and the heated local debate over the U.S. Air Force's choice.
1. By the time basing is complete in 2020, the Air Force will have spent more than $1.5 billion to bring F-35s to Vermont
Despite the intensity of the local debate about the issue, average Vermonters aren’t likely to see any major changes until 2020, when the Vermont Air National Guard says the jets will actually arrive.
According to the F-35 Joint Program Office, the total cost to the U.S. Air Force for the 18 jets will be $85 million apiece, totaling $1.53 billion. The Air Force will also delegate $4.7 million for F-35 related renovations to Guard facilities in Vermont.
2. The F-35s won’t be flying as frequently as the F-16s do
According to an Air Force analysis, the Vermont Air National Guard will perform 5,486 “airfield operations” per year under the chosen basing plan. That is almost a one-third reduction from the current 8,099 annual operations by the guard using F-16s. For scale, Burlington International Airport sees 112,224 total operations annually.
Most F-35 flights will happen during the day, between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m., the same timeframe the Guard uses for F-16s.
3. The F-35s aren’t bringing any new jobs to the Vermont Guard
In an interview with VPR’s Neal Charnoff, the Adjutant General for the state of Vermont Steve Cray said the F-35s won’t lead to any new jobs for the Vermont Air National Guard, since staffing for the 18 F-35s would be equivalent to the staffing for the 18 F-16s the Guard already has. That doesn’t mean the new fighter jets won’t make a difference, he said. Without the new planes, Cray said the guard’s future would have been uncertain, as the F-16s they currently use will soon be too old to fly.
4. Opponents say F-35s are too loud and too new to fly in Burlington
The F-35s are louder than the F-16s the Guard uses now. According to the Final Environmental Impact Statement issued by the U.S. Air Force, “In all instances the F-35 generates noise levels greater than the F-16s.”
Concerns about noise range from nuisance to childhood development issues, and opponents say property values will decline as a result of the noise. Hundreds of critics voiced their concerns at public meetings about the basing and 1,338 wrote to the Air Force in opposition to the F-35s coming to Vermont.
Critics also say that because the F-35 is so new, it hasn’t had time to develop a solid safety record. Cray said that by the time the jets get to Vermont in 2020, they will have a solid record, and there haven’t been any F-35 crashes so far.
5. Supporters say the jets help the local economy and national security
Those who want the jets in Vermont include Gov. Peter Shumlin, Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger and the state’s entire congressional delegation, along with thousands of Vermonters who sent postcards to the Air Force in support of the basing. Supporters say the Vermont Air National Guard needs the F-35s in order to maintain the number of jobs it currently provides. Having those Guard members in the area spending money at local businesses is vital to the economy, they say.
Others have said that Vermont and the entire Northeast U.S. would be less safe if the jets don’t come to Vermont.
Correction: A previous version of this article wrongly stated that the Guard's flight operations would be reduced by two thirds, not one third, with the F-35.