Testimony on the Keep Vermont Nuclear Bomber Free Resolution
Dan Grazier, Center for Defense Information at the Project On Government Oversight
(Senate Committee hearing on S.R.5, May 2019)
Senator White, Senator Pollina and members of the committee for the opportunity to testify on behalf of the Center for Defense Information at the Project On Government Oversight on the F-35 and the potential issues basing a squadron at Burlington raises.
My name is Dan Grazier. I spent ten years as an officer in the United States Marine Corps. My time in the service, including deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, taught me how to evaluate weapons and equipment for their true military value. As a graduate student of military history at Norwich University right down the road in Northfield, I know that F-35 program is already a disaster of historical proportions that will only get worse in the future. The Center for Defense Information, a non-partisan watchdog organization, has spent decades exposing the waste and abuse that all-too often accompanies Pentagon weapons programs.
The F-35 is the biggest one we have ever studied. I am not here to tell you what you should do in Vermont. As an outsider, particularly one from Washington, I think that would be inappropriate. What I will do is provide you with relevant information that you should consider as you make decisions regarding military forces based in Vermont. I have spent the past four years studying the F-35 program in great detail and I can assure you that despite the flood of optimistic press reports emanating from the Pentagon and industry-funded media outlets, the F-35 remains a deeply flawed program.
I know nuclear weapons is one of the major concerns citizens have about basing F-35s in Vermont. The F-35 has, from the very beginning, been slated to become a nuclear capable aircraft. This capability is one that will be added later in the $10 plus billion modernization program planned for all new production planes and for already produced Block 3 planes...but the F-35 program office has avoided committing to a specific date. Just because Vermont’s F-35s will eventually be wired for nuclear bombs doesn’t necessarily mean those kind of weapons will be stored here. That doesn’t eliminate the risks, however. Our potential adversaries with nuclear weapons monitor very closely all of our nuclear delivery vehicles. Just like we monitor their activities, they know where we station all of our missiles, submarines, and bombers. It is only prudent to target nuclear assets in the unthinkable event of a nuclear war. That would include any and all F-35 bases, to include Burlington.
Here's something else to consider. I understand officials have issued repeated assurances that the 158th Fighter Wing will not be armed with nuclear weapons here in Vermont. That doesn’t mean they would never be elsewhere. The 158th could be forward deployed to a place like Eastern Europe and armed there with the B61 mod 12 nuclear bombs stored closer to their intended targets.
It should be pointed out that the B61 mod 12, which is sized specifically for the F-35’s bomb bay, has been described as the world’s most dangerous nuclear weapon. It is designed to be a variable yield weapon which means it can be employed at a maximum yield of 50 kilotons, three times the size of the Hiroshima bomb, or dialed back to a 0.3 kiloton yield.
What makes this dangerous is the small yield size, what some people call a tactical, or battlefield nuclear weapon. Imagine a future emergency along the lines of the September 11th attacks, with a president under a great deal of pressure to respond strongly. As a show of force, the president could deploy Vermont’s F-35s to the trouble spot in question. In response to further tensions or provocations, military leaders could tempt the president to use a so-called little nuclear bomb delivered by F-35s to send a message. The trouble with this is that other countries do not distinguish between tactical and strategic nuclear weapons. To them a nuke is a nuke. If they happen to be allied with the country targeted by our tactical nuclear weapons, the chances of escalation into a strategic nuclear exchange become very great indeed.
Another danger inherent with arming single-seat fighters with nuclear weapons is that final release authority resides in a single person. In every other nuclear platform, several people must work together to launch a weapon. Even on a bomber like the B-2 there are two people who both have to agree that their orders are valid and then work through the necessary procedures to actually employ the weapon. That is not the case with a single-seat fighter. There, you have just one person who, rationally or irrationally, can launch a weapon after they take off.
And while I have your attention, I’d like to veer off the subject of nuclear weapons for a brief moment. I know officials have been claiming that bringing the F-35 to Vermont is important for jobs and the economy. First off, if that’s the best argument to muster about a weapon system, then you can be assured the program has little military value. There are far better ways to stimulate the economy than by buying and maintaining weapons. While the sticker price of the F-35 tends to garner the most attention, what should concern the Vermont General Assembly the most is the program’s ownership cost.
Just this past week, in a hearing in front of the House Armed Services Committee, Pentagon officials admitted that it costs at least $44,000 per hour to operate the F-35A. These costs are calculated based on simple things like fuel and personnel salaries, but also how much is spent on spare parts, simulators, and paying Lockheed Martin to operate the cumbersome logistics system at the heart of the F-35 program. For comparison’s sake, the F-16C costs approximately $19,000 per flight hour. That’s an important point. The F-35 program was designed by Lockheed Martin in such a way that only their people could perform most of the maintenance of it.
Vermont will likely lose jobs here because the aircraft will have to be sent elsewhere for maintenance operations or Lockheed Martin contractors will be sent here temporarily to perform work that is traditionally done by guard personnel. This ensures the company receives lucrative F-35 sustainment contracts throughout the life of the program, contracts you will have to budget for in part once the 158th Fighter Wing transitions to the F-35. These high operating costs will not go away because they are baked into the system. Pentagon officials talk about all of the plans they have to drive down these costs, but also just admitted last week that they are likely to fall short of their goals in the coming decade. Thank you again for the opportunity to testify here today. I would be happy to answer any questions you might have.
Retired Lt. Col. Roger Bourassa, USAF Air National Guard
(Senate Committee hearing on S.R.5, May 2019)
My name is Roger Bourassa. I am a native of Winooski, currently living in Colchester, and I am a retired Lt. Col. USAF, Air National Guard.
My flying experience as a crew member in these aircrafts includes:
* 2 years on the F-89 as Radar Intercept Officer for the Air Defense Command at BTV Airport in Burlington, Vermont.
* 3 years on the C-97 as Navigator for the Military Airlift Commands in Schenectady, NY.
* 6 years on the F-101 as Weapon System Officer for the Air Defense Command in Bangor, Maine.
In Burlington I was a crew member on the F-89, one of several air defense squadrons to defend the North East from possible enemy attack by Russia. The F-89's armament was two high explosive missiles and two nuclear war heads mounted on two self-propelled rockets. Part of the air crew check list was to check the proper mounting of these weapons prior to takeoff or taking control of the aircraft on alert.
While at VTANG in Burlington, our routine training flights were with simulated missiles and rockets.
The only time these weapons were armed were when the aircraft and crew members were on alert status. Alert aircraft did not fly missions unless scrambled. While at VTANG, our aircraft was scrambled once to investigate an enemy Russian bomber that had penetrated our airspace. By the time we reached the air space violation, the aircraft was back in international air space. In Maine, I was scrambled twice with the same outcome. Penetrating one another’s air space was a game played by both the Russians and the US to gather intelligence. Make no mistake we carried nuclear weapons in this game. And they were stored at BTV airport. My fear is that if we had launched a nuclear weapon this could have been the beginning of a possible escalated nuclear war. There would have been no turning back.
As crew members, we were intentionally not made aware of exactly where the nuclear warheads were stored at BTV. That knowledge was exclusively for the ground crew who were responsible for transporting and loading the rockets and who went through extensive training to ensure the safety of handling nuclear materials. Crew members and ground crew all had to have top secret clearance and we were not allowed to disclose any information about nuclear weapons at BTV to the public.
The Air Force, perhaps with approval of the Department Of Defense, decided it was preferable that the public have no knowledge about the existence of nuclear weapons here at BTV. This experience leads me to believe that the Air Force will use the same strategy with the F-35s. In other words, we will have nuclear weapons at BTV without the Governor, legislators or the public knowing about it.
Having a Master’s degree in International Relations, I cannot help but be aware and concerned about how many of our international conflicts were blunders initiated by mistakes and/or failures in our military/political systems. There is no safe level of failure when nuclear weapons are involved. Nuclear weapons at BTV airport is an existential threat, to Burlington, the North East and to our humanity. Prohibiting the F-35 nuclear delivery system from BTV means one less possible catastrophe from happening to us all.
Pierre Sprey, Co-Designer of the F-16 jet
(Senate Committee hearing on S.R.5, May 2019)
My name is Pierre Sprey, and I want to thank you for allowing me to come here and speak on a super important matter, super important for Vermonters and for our country. My background is I’ve spent my entire adult life working on defense matters, some nuclear, more non-nuclear. I started at Grumman Aircraft working on a number of fighters there, and the Navy’s small nuclear bomber at the time, the A-6. I went to Washington to work for the Secretary of Defense, and I worked on nuclear accuracy, among other things.
I did a study that convinced the Secretary of Defense and the National Security Advisor and the President that what they’d been told about the accuracy of our nuclear weapons was greatly exaggerated. More importantly to me, I had the privilege of serving in a very small team with some very brilliant Air Force officers, and we started the F-16 and the A-10 programs, oversaw the basic design and the basic contracting for the prototypes. I left the Pentagon in 1986 and have been working ever since on military reform matters, but I have not accepted a penny from any defense force since then.
I’d like to pick up on Colonel Barrasso’s very dramatic and very convincing presentation. And by the way, please interrupt me at any point because I’m going to give you a little history. If any of it seems a little tangled, please interrupt me right away.
To address this question of the mission of the 158th fighter squadron: you’ve been told from various sources, political and military, that we’re assured that there will be no nuclear mission coming to Burlington. That’s an empty statement. I’m going to start with a very simple piece of history from the early sixties, when Colonel Barrasso was in F-89s and F101s, and the mission here was nuclear-armed intercept aggression bombers.
Until today, there have been six changes of mission, none of which Vermont had anything to do with or any say in, it was simply imposed. They actually range from the early nuclear intercept mission to a complete change to electronic jamming, and then back to a nuclear attack mission, a nuclear and non-nuclear ground attack, then back to air defense, then back to multipurpose and nuclear ground attack, and the last change has been adding on tactical reconnaissance and close-air support.
In none of those were the citizens of Vermont or the legislature consulted, it just happened. So that’s six changes of mission from 1960, actually, the last one was in 1994. And you’re facing right now perhaps the most momentous mission change that’s likely to come to Vermont, so let me give you a little background on that.
The first really important change that affects us today, other than the six changes I talked about, came in 1973 when we got a new Secretary of Defense unusually independent of the weapons industry named James Schlesinger. You need a little background to understand what happened with James Schlesinger and the promises that were made to him and were broken. At that point in 1973, the Air Force had made every single-seat fighter in the Air Force a nuclear bomber, and that had been true since the mid-fifties. What was the reason for that? The reason for that was that during the fifties, the Army and the Navy invented a bizarre concept called “tactical nuclear war,” that is the idea that you could fight some small nuclear war in some corner of Europe or Asia and it wouldn’t spread anywhere. Why did they do that? Very simply because the Air Force under Truman and Eisenhower had knocked down this huge portion of the budget from nuclear bombers, and of course the Army and the Navy weren’t going to sit still for that, as you can imagine.
And so they invented this thing that there would be these short-range nuclear wars, little local deals, and that they would have to develop lots of weapons for that, and of course, collect lots of money for that. The Air Force, of course, again, as you would imagine, didn’t just take that sitting down. They came back with the idea that they would turn all their small fighters into short-range nuclear bombers to cut into some of that pie of these small nuclear wars. All that was approved by Eisenhower, unfortunately, and the Air Force ever since then has armed all their first-line, single-seat fighters with nuclear wiring to enable them to become small nuclear bombers.
This is the background where James Schlesinger steps in. Schlesinger was a really staunch advocate of stronger national defense, including stronger nuclear defense. However, being a man of conscience, he wanted to leave a legacy of improved weapons behind in the Pentagon, and he started that right from the day he entered office. With regard to the Air Force, he had two very specific ideas in mind for his legacy. One was that he would introduce new airplanes that were cheaper and much more combat-effective than the airplanes they were replacing, something that went very much against the grain of the Air Force.
They always like more expensive airplanes. And, because he was very versed in nuclear matters, he understood the true danger, if not absolute insanity, of arming a single-seat fighter with a nuclear weapon. He understood that deeply because he’d been mostly grounded in nuclear studies for most of his career. And so, he decided, as I said, very early on in his tenure that he would back the two airplanes that I had worked on, the A-10 and the F-16. They would be his legacy to the Air Force. And he would end this insanity of making every single-seat fighter a small nuclear bomber. Being a very able bureaucrat, as well as a brilliant man, he understood that the Air Force sure didn’t like that idea, either of the two ideas. They hated the airplanes, they were too cheap, and they were doing missions that the Air Force really didn’t want to do, especially the close support mission for the A-10, so it would take an offer they couldn’t refuse, let’s say. Schlesinger came up with that offer.
Very simply, he offered to expand the Air Force by 1500 airplanes using the A-10 and the F-16, 1500 airplanes that they never expected to get. So it’s, of course, a huge feather in the cap of the chief of staff of the Air Force to preside over this major expansion of the Air Force. And he said, “One string: you must accept these without putting any nuclear wiring on them.” Well the deal was too sweet, and the Air Force chief of staff George Brown basically signed in blood for the deal in 1973, and they went to work on that basis, started producing the airplanes.
All that changed suddenly in 1975, when Schlesinger was axed in the Saturday Night Massacre, organized by the now-famous Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney. So he was out. Within one week, the Air Force chief of staff reneged on his promise and ordered nuclear wiring on the F-16, an enormously consequential decision because it’s the reason you got F-16s that had nuclear wiring here in Vermont, and it’s the reason that when the first contracts were let to start the F-35 in 1996, the nuclear wiring was baked in. The Air Force never had the slightest doubt that they were going to make this a nuclear-capable airplane.
The next real major turning point that brings us to the current time was in 2018, very recently. Donald Trump and his Secretary of Defense issued a new Nuclear Posture Review. Those are done about every four years to state what the overall nuclear position of the United States is. And that new posture review has some momentous stuff in it that directly affects Vermont. What happened was the whole issue of the small nuclear wars that I just talked about that had been so consequential earlier had been gradually suppressed, and from about the early nineties, small nuclear bombers, that is fighters with nuclear weapons, had no longer been standing nuclear alert, which of course was the most dangerous thing they could do.
So this issue hadn’t gone away, the nuclear wiring was still on all the fighters, but it was less in the forefront. Trump’s 2018 Nuclear Posture Review has brought that roaring back in a way that we’ve never had before. It now makes the small nuclear war an integral part of the strategic defense of the United States. It says in essence that there’s a seamless ladder of nuclear weapons options, from tiny warheads in small regional nuclear wars all the way up to the all-out Holocaust. That’s in essence what it says, I mean mind you, this is fifty pages of very tedious reading.
What’s the consequence here? The consequence is very simple: that report places the F-35 front and center in the strategic defense of the United States because for the first time ever, it mentions a specific fighter by name. In the postulate review, it’s never happened before. And in fact, it brings up the F-35 eight times in this report, very unusual. And of course, there’s a reason why. One, of course, is they’re trying to justify the unprecedented budget of the F-35. Remember, this is the most expensive weapons program in the history of the world, much more so than, say, the atom bomb as an example, or the nuclear submarine or any of that. Needless to say, the administration’s nuclear posture has to justify those budgets and it works hard at doing it. It also puts the F-35 front and center because it will be the first weapons system deployed with this whole new emphasis placed on small nuclear weapons.
Remember, Dan Grazier mentioned how dangerous small weapons are, kind of counter-intuitively. The small weapons are much more dangerous than the big ones because it’s easier to envision dropping them. That’s exactly what the Nuclear Posture Review does, it says, “We can envision the credibility of using small nuclear weapons to settle small regional wars, and we reserve the right to use them first against an enemy who’s never used a nuclear weapon against us.” It says that very specifically. And if in the judgment of the president we’re facing some super-dangerous threat, which may or may not exist, of course, he reserves the right to drop a nuclear weapon, presumably a small one, to supposedly keep all this from going anywhere, and of course, as Colonel Barrasso pointed out, a very small weapon could be the beginning of basically the end of the world.
Bringing that up to date, the F-35s you’re getting now, of course, are not nuclear wired. Left to its own devices, inevitably the Air Force will nuclear wire them. No present F-35 has nuclear wiring because the F-35 hadn’t even been fully designed yet. We’re producing it like crazy and it’s like a do-it-yourself kit. We’re still building it, we’re still designing it, we’re sending parts to redo it as we go down the production line. And a very clear part of that is the new modernization program, it used to be called Lock-4, now called C2D2, I won’t bore you with the ridiculous acronyms.
That is an upgrade program that has about fifty different upgrade items, central among which is nuclear capability, and that will be applied to every one of the current production F-35s that are like the ones that you are getting, and it will be applied to future new production. So it will continue the Air Force tradition of every single-seater fighter being a short-range nuclear bomber. That’s of enormous consequence to Vermont.
You are going to be the first state to receive National Guard F-35s, no other states will have them before you. The F-35 is the opening wedge for the small nuclear warhead and the supposed ability to fight a small nuclear war, and that will be coming here. So you, as the Vermont legislature and the people of Vermont, are facing a very, very large issue, which is simply, do you really want to be the lead in all National Guard units in the country to house a small nuclear bomber that could be the very first nuclear weapon dropped on another country that never dropped one on us and set off the nuclear holocaust, and at the same time turn Vermont into a nuclear target for Russians, Chinese, whatever. That’s a huge decision, and I hope you take it seriously. It’s an enormous consequence, and I’ll be very happy to answer any questions now. I’ll leave my contact information if you or any of your staff want more details. I know I’ve laid a lot of history on you here that’s probably unfamiliar, but I’m very happy to assist in any of your deliberations in the future, and I can be reached by email and phone.
Retired Colonel Rosanne Greco, USAF
(Senate Committee hearing on S.R.5, May 2019)
My name is Rosanne Greco. I served on active duty in the Air Force for 30 years and retired as a full Colonel. I was an Intelligence Officer, and I specialized in nuclear weapons and nuclear weapons targeting. I was also a nuclear weapons arms control negotiator. I don’t know how to adequately convey the magnitude of the issue before us today. I’ve dealt with, and planned for, nuclear war for most of my career. That was my job. But, I find in talking about nuclear weapons, much less about nuclear war, that people either don’t want to believe it; or they are too frightened by it to even talk about it. Thank you for talking about it!
Ignoring this issue or pretending it can’t happen is dangerously foolhardy. Admittedly, the prospect of having an all-out nuclear war is remote, but it is still a possibility. And should it happen, we face planetary annihilation. The other stark reality is that we are closer to nuclear war than we have been in the past 30 years. This is because of a reinvigorated push to “modernize” our nuclear weapons and to make them more “usable;” the abrogation of nuclear weapons treaties; the increase in the number of nuclear countries; and increasing world tensions.
Having the newest nuclear weapon system — the F-35 — in Vermont has enormous implications. And make no mistake, the F-35 IS a nuclear weapon system. The Secretary of Defense announced that publicly in his 2018 Nuclear Posture Review. Regardless of any assurances you may hear, I can share with you from my background in nuclear targeting, that our enemies will assume that all F-35s are nuclear weapon delivery systems; and as a result, all F-35 bases will be targeted. From a targeting perspective — meaning WE are the target — the only thing that matters is what the enemy thinks.
The other unimaginable aspect of having the F-35 based here, is the possibility that the Vermont Air National Guard could one day be called upon to drop its nuclear payload on another part of the world, or even worse, could one day become the instrument for igniting a worldwide holocaust. I cannot fathom how Vermonters would stomach that possibility. ANY other mission for the Vermont Air Guard is better than this.