Editor’s note: This commentary is by retired Air Force Col. Rosanne Greco, who is a candidate for adjutant general of the Vermont National Guard. She spent 30 years on active duty in the Air Force, and is a former chair of the South Burlington City Council and a member of Save Our Skies VT.
Mutually Assured Destruction: MAD. For years that was my area of expertise. I’m a retired Air Force colonel with 30 years experience in the intelligence community, where I held the highest security clearances and provided intelligence support for nuclear targeting. I specialized in nuclear weapons and arms control, and I was a member of the U.S. START delegation. So, I know a lot about nuclear weapons and how we planned to use them.
But I thought I’d left that world when I retired and moved to Vermont. Last year, it came back to me.
I have opposed basing F-35 fighter-bombers at the Burlington commercial airport since 2012 when I was chair of the South Burlington City Council. The Air Force’s Environmental Impact Statement convinced me that the F-35 could endanger the health and safety of thousands of people living near the airport. But it was only last year that I learned the F-35 has a nuclear role.
As part of a lawsuit over the proposed basing, the Air Force had to provide their records produced during the basing process. In going through the 68,000 heavily redacted pages, I was shocked to find a few obscure references to Vermont’s F-35s carrying nuclear weapons.
Digging deeper, I found press articles quoting Department of Defense officials saying the F-35 was designed as a nuclear weapons platform, and has “a requirement to carry a nuclear payload.” The nuclear requirements for the F-35 went far beyond plans for older nuclear-wired fighters like the F-16. They include a new guided nuclear bomb, the B61-12, which is being developed specifically to fit the F-35 bomb bay.
A week after taking office as president, Donald Trump directed DoD to conduct an analysis of U.S. nuclear strategy and forces. The resulting Nuclear Posture Review stated “The United States is incorporating nuclear capability onto the forward-deployable, nuclear-capable F-35 as a replacement for the current aging DCA.” In the preface, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis wrote, “Modernizing our dual-capable fighter bombers with next-generation F-35 fighter aircraft will maintain the strength of NATO’s deterrence posture and maintain our ability to forward deploy nuclear weapons, should the security situation demand it.” The Pentagon plans to use the F-35 to counter potential strategic nuclear threats from Russia, China and North Korea.
What might this mean for Vermont? The Air Force never told Vermonters the F-35 would carry nuclear weapons, nor did they tell us the F-35 was to be an integral part of U.S. nuclear strategic forces. Having a nuclear bomber based in the middle of our residential communities dramatically changes the situation.
VTDigger is underwritten by:
Basing strategic nuclear F-35s in Burlington raises three grave concerns. First, Vermont’s Air Guard could participate in, or initiate, a nuclear war if ordered to deploy by the president. Second, Vermont’s F-35s would become a target. Where the nuclear bombs are stored is immaterial because in strategic targeting, the delivery vehicle is the target. Bombs without aircraft pose no threat to the enemy.
There is a third concern. Our current nuclear strategy is MAD: mutually assured destruction. The MAD theory holds that if any country launches a nuclear strike, the other country will retaliate in kind, which will end most life in both countries and perhaps on earth. Theoretically, it should work … as long as both sides understand this.
This is MAD. But the F-35, with its guided B61-12 nuclear bomb, makes it madder. The B61-12’s explosive power can be adjusted over a range of nuclear yields from .03 kilotons to 50 kilotons (the Hiroshima bomb killed 150,000 people with 15 kilotons). Perversely, the message to the enemy is that we are MORE likely to use THIS nuclear weapon because of its lower yield and higher accuracy.
While the “smaller” yield on “our” nuclear bomb may “only” kill hundreds to thousands of people, it’s the enemy’s large nuclear H-bombs that we will be receiving in retaliation. A hundred thousand people in Vermont, New York and Canada live close to ground zero: the Burlington airport.
MAD relies on the premise that national leaders are thoughtful and sane. Some aren’t. Our president does not understand science or nuclear strategy; and he’s impulsively talked about wanting to use nuclear weapons.
Will Vermont eventually be part of this madder than MAD war game? It’s up to us.