By: Allen Ruff
The Madison area’s current campaign to stop the stationing of twenty F-35 attack jets at Truax Field/Dane County Airport demands the active support of all socialists. The local and global issues related to the proposed base should readily engage all comrades as we fight for social, economic and environmental justice.
At the local level, residents and activists on Madison’s north and east sides have raised numerous concerns. A serious issue involves the real threat of exponentially increased noise levels since, according to an Air National Guard (ANG)-mandated draft environmental impact study (EIS). The report details that the increased decibel level of the F-35s at take-off will be some four times greater than that of the F-16s currently based at Truax.
According to the EIS, “…The increase in noise exposure near the airport would “disproportionately impact low-income areas” with minority populations, creating an “uninhabitable” inner ring of low- and middle income housing surrounding the airport. The East Side already faces significant neglect and injustice due to Madison and Dane County policies, and the proposed air base would only increase the disparity between this community and the rapidly-gentrifying downtown and West Side neighborhoods. In effect, the proposed air base would compound stress on impoverished communities and focus negative impacts on Madison’s communities of color.
A separate City of Madison analysis also noted that the area close to, but just beyond the area deemed eligible for federal “mitigation” (soundproofing) funding will experience virtually identical noise levels with no federal support to address this issue.This will leave residents who already bear the brunt of racial, economic, and environmental injustice without the necessary resources to protect themselves from dangerous noise levels in their homes. Additionally, soundproofing may not even be an option for the north side mobile home park close by the airport and within directly impacted area, since the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) considers mobile homes non-permanent structures ineligible for “mitigation” funds.
Even the areas that are eligible for “mitigation” funds would suffer, as soundproofing projects could take years to complete. Local homeowners in these areas, largely comprised of working class residents, are already anticipating losses in the values of their homes — for most a key asset.
The EIS also noted that the heavily impacted area currently has large numbers of children, childcare centers and public schools and that impacts to children associated with the increased noise levels would be considered “disproportionate and significant.”
Overall, numerous low-income and working poor residents will be dispossessed at a time when Madison is experiencing pronounced, well-documented, and long-term crises in affordable housing and racial inequity.
Environmental alarms have also been raised as highly toxic PFAS contaminants at levels thousands of times over the recommended standards by Department of Natural Resource monitors, have been found in Starkweather Creek leading to Lake Monona. Investigators have found that the dangerously harmful pollutant can be traced back to Truax, where PFAS-loaded foam has been used in Air National Guard (ANG) firefighting drills. While the DNR has posted warnings about human contact with the Creek’ water, the City of Madison has formally requested that the ANG remediate the situation, to little avail. Meanwhile, experts anticipate that the levels of ground and water contaminants will only increase as expansion at the airport’s facilities for the F-35s (at a projected cost of $90-$120 million) is expected to begin before existing problems are cleaned-up.
The EIS also stated that with the arrival of the F-35s, projected annual airfield CO2e emissions would increase by approximately 12,478 tons or 135 percent — equivalent to adding an additional 2,438 passenger vehicles onto area roads with each driving an average 11,500 miles per year.
Despite projected negative effects on Madison’s multi-racial, working class North and East sides, various interests elsewhere have come together to applaud and promote the proposed F-35 base. A key booster, the local Chamber of Commerce leadership has been busy promoting a false promise of area-wide economic growth and “more jobs” as a result of the base. However, while more temporary employment will result from constructing new facilities at Truax, the EIS study concluded that the resulting increases in employment and income to the Madison region would be “beneficial but negligible.” Other enthusiasts — among them numbers of observably well organized military personnel, veterans, and others — repeatedly claim the F-35s will provide for our “defense” and “security” and that increased noise levels should be celebrated as “the sound of freedom.”
Most significantly, in a rare showing of bi-partisanship, a number of elected officials at the local, county and state levels along with local notables such as Paul Soglin and Rebecca Blank have applauded the planes’ anticipated arrival. Many of those who haven’t officially thrown their support behind the F-35s, including Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway and Congressman Mark Pocan,have sat on the fence, reluctant to come out firmly against the base.
The most notable proponent of the project has been Madison’s “progressive” Democrat, US Senator Tammy Baldwin. Her unabashed support of the F-35s, while draped in the rhetoric of “security,” “jobs” and “support for the military,” has been explained by some in vulgar economic terms: major weapons manufacturers contribute to her “war chest” and she must continue securing Pentagon contracts for in-state firms or risk losing support from in-state manufacturers and their workers.
A Global War Machine
Presently the costliest weapons project in history and a gigantic boondoggle of cost overrides, production of the F-35s provides a great illustration of how the military-industrial-congressional complex, or more accurately the Permanent War Economy, functions.
The Pentagon purchases the F-35s from the gigantic military manufacturer Lockheed-Martin (LM) at a current estimated price of between $85 and $120 million per plane. With LM serving as the prime contractor, the plane is actually a multinational project as components and parts for it are provided through a series of global supply chains which provide parts or assemblies from a total of some 1600 US subcontractors residing in 46 states and 350 congressional districts as well as companies in a number of US allies – among them the United Kingdom, Italy, Netherlands, Australia, Norway, and Denmark. Lockheed, which experienced a 58.3% increase in the price of its shares in 2019, has been selling the jets to those partners as well as to other client states including Israel, Japan, South Korea and Belgium.
In part because there are so many “hands” and technologies involved in the planes’ production, and partly because of resulting design flaws and changes, there have been innumerable glitches and delays which have driven up the amount of budget overrides (currently at $200 billion) and resulting additional funding from the Pentagon. And of course, all this funding comes straight from the pockets of taxpayers in the form of discretionary spending diverted from domestic needs or deficit spending and deferred debt.
The F-35 program’s projected long-term production cost is expected to top $1.5 trillion. However, the actual cost of the project becomes inestimable if one begins to contemplate the funds siphoned way from social needs and true security—funding for health care, education, mass transit, affordable housing for all, green technologies, etc.—the myriad productive development projects currently diverted away by the Permanent War Economy.
The bottom line? As fifty-four cents of each discretionary tax dollar goes to the Pentagon, working class folks in places like Madison are expected to bare additional costs and burdens as military-industrial giants such as Lockheed reap the benefits. Meanwhile, the only future “trickle down” resulting from the F-35’s arrival at Truax will likely be from the increase of pollutants into Starkweather Creek.