The Department of Defense’s 2018 Nuclear Posture Review contained a message of enormous significance for Vermonters. It designated the F-35 as a part of its strategic nuclear bomber force. This is the first time a fighter has been so designated. That makes the F-35 completely different from the F-16 or any earlier nuclear-wired fighter. Numerous high-level Defense Department officials have elaborated on the role that the F-35 will play in regional nuclear deterrence, that is, in so-called “small” nuclear wars.
The F-35 will carry what has been called the most dangerous nuclear weapon in America’s arsenal: the B61-12 guided nuclear bomb that is custom tailored for the F-35. The Pentagon has been developing this new nuclear bomb specifically for the F-35 bomb bay since 2010. The B61-12 nuclear bomb has settings for four different sizes of nuclear blast, referred to as a “dial-a-yield” capability. Because the B61-12’s “smallest” setting is only a third of a kiloton, military war planners are talking about this as a “usable” nuclear weapon.
And even more dangerous, because of the F-35 stealth technology and the accuracy of its B61-12 bomb, the F-35 is being considered a first-strike nuclear weapon.
Not since the worst cold war crisis has the United States been as close to a nuclear war as we are now. This is because our current administration is ripping up nuclear arms control treaties, budgeting a trillion-and-a-half dollars for new nuclear weapons — and most frighteningly, “modernizing” most of them with smaller, more “usable” nuclear weapons while openly stating that these nuclear weapons will give us the option of conducting a first nuclear strike against non-nuclear threats.
Moreover, our current president seems to not understand nuclear weapons or the consequences of using them. In fact, he has spoken about wanting to use nuclear weapons. Current F-35 models with their current computer system, including the ones scheduled for Burlington, do not yet have the nuclear capability. Pentagon officials estimate that the F-35 could be armed with the B61-12 nuclear bomb as early as 2020.
The F-35 is now part of our nuclear triad, it will carry a “usable” nuclear bomb, it’s been discussed officially as being a first-strike nuclear weapon, and the Vermont Air National Guard is the first operational Guard base for the F-35. There are two huge implications for Vermont from these facts. First, the Vermont Air Guard F-35s will immediately become a huge threat to our enemies and Vermont will become a nuclear target. It’s important to clarify that, in nuclear targeting, it is the delivery vehicles and their bases which are targeted, not the warheads. So, it’s the bombers and the bomb bases which are the targets, not the bombs. And, second — in our name — the Vermont Air National Guard could be assigned by the president to drop a nuclear weapon on another country.
However, if Vermonters say “no” to basing nuclear bombers in Vermont, then the beginning of the end of nuclear weapons could start from Vermont.
Andrew Schoerke, of Veterans For Peace, Green Mountain Chapter, lives in Shaftsbury.