Renewed FOIA request for F-35 fleet flight hours submitted to F-35 Program Office

For immediate release

For further information contact James Marc Leas 802 864-1575

Renewed FOIA request for F-35 fleet flight hours submitted to the Joint Strike Fighter Program Office

Fire that destroyed an F-35A at Eglin Air Force base raises stakes in safety debate about basing F-35-A in Burlington in 2020

F-16 co-designer Pierre Sprey says F-35 cumulative fleet flight hours by 2020 will be further reduced because of mishaps and cost

Below this news release is the renewed FOIA request for F-35 fleet flight hours submitted to the Joint Strike Fighter Program Office. This request is similar to the FOIA request that VTDigger effectively suppressed last year in the months leading up to the Air Force decision to base the F-35-A jets in Burlington.

“Fleet flight hours” is a critical parameter for determining the safety of a new jet fighter, like the F-35-A. The F-16 had over one million worldwide fleet flight hours when it was first based in Burlington in 1986. According to calculations by F-16 co-designer, Pierre Sprey, the severely troubled F-35-A is unlikely to have anywhere near that number of fleet flight hours when it arrives in Burlington in 2020. Its safety record will therefore not be verifiably established when it arrives, and it is likely to have a much higher crash rate than the F-16 had.

An F-35-A burst into flames due to what Aviation Week called a “safety-critical problem” in its engine while the jet was speeding down the runway on take off at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida on June 23, 2014 (“F-35 Fire: In Search Of A Solution,” Aviation Week, September 8, 2014). According to Aviation Week, “no single root cause has yet been identified.”

According to that Aviation Week article, “Five F135 engines have been pulled from F-35s after failing an inspection regime that was instituted after the June 23 fire. One of the failed engines was removed from F-35 CF-9 (the ninth production F-35C), an aircraft with fewer than 70 flight hours, according to a retired military officer and JSF program veteran.”

Vermont Air National Guard Pilots and Burlington area residents will be at risk if the F-35-A fleet has not flown at least a million fleet flight hours, according to Pierre Sprey. As reported in Seven Days last year, “All new fighters have high accident rates, he explained, which are higher than mature fighter planes and much higher than scheduled commercial airliners.” If substantially less than a million fleet flight hours, there will be no solid basis for the plane’s safety record when it arrives in Burlington in 2020. Sprey’s calculations last year indicated that the F-35-A would not have more than 100,000 fleet flight hours when it arrives in Burlington in 2020, way less than sufficient for safety and for accurately determining the plane’s accident rate.

In view of the renewed FOIA request, in an email today Pierre Sprey wrote:

With respect to my prediction of 100,000 fleet flight hours by 2020, there is now no doubt that the total hours will be substantially less because a) F-35A flying hours per aircraft per month have increased more slowly than predicted (due to groundings and continuing aircraft unreliability); and b) there will be significantly less F-35As bought by 2020 than I used in my calculations due to their continuing high and unaffordable costs (this is already reflected in the DoD’s Five Year Plan). When you get the detailed flying hour info, we can sit down together and recalculate the fleet flying hours to be anticipated in 2020.

Here is how VTDigger not only failed to do its own digging into anticipated F-35-A fleet flight hours but interfered with and effectively sabotaged such digging before the Air Force announcement last December that it would base F-35 jets in Burlington.

The day after attorney and writer James Marc Leas called Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek requesting charts showing the anticipated fleet flight hours for the F-35-A by 2020, Stefanek wrote an October 22, 2013 email to VTDigger, saying:

   “Jim Leas called yesterday and said he is a freelancer for your publication. Unfortunately, I’ve misplaced his phone number so I was hoping you could send the following information his way.

   “The F-35 Joint Program Office with the Department of Defense (not the Air Force) is responsible for F-35 fleet flight hours. You may reach that office by calling [redacted].”

VTDigger did not abide by Ann Stefanek’s request to send his way the information as to whom to call for the anticipated fleet flight hour information nor otherwise inform Mr. Leas of the need to redirect his request to the Joint Program Office. VTDigger also refused a request to release the email correspondence from Ann Stefanek. Thus the request for anticipated F-35 fleet flight hours by 2020 was effectively suppressed, and the information about anticipated fleet flight hours was not made publicly available before the Air Force issued its decision to base F-35 jets in Burlington last December.

VTDigger also published an irresponsible story accusing me of “misrepresentation” based on Stefanek stating in her email that I said I was a freelancer for VTDigger,” said Mr. Leas.

Air Force rules expressly provide that that the Air Force considers a requester with a sufficient past publication record to be “a freelance journalist for” the publication. No employment contract, no payment for articles, and no assignment are required under the Air Force rules. All that is required is “a solid basis for expecting publication through that entity.” And for that determination the Air Force “may consider the past publication record of the requester.” The Air Force rules are identical to the wording in the federal Freedom of Information Act. The attached list includes the 39 articles VTDigger had published that had been authored by Mr. Leas in the four years previous, demonstrated that solid basis.

However, under another Freedom of Information Act request, the Air Force provided Mr. Leas with the entire email communication between Ann Stefanek and VTDigger (with specific names and phone numbers redacted). Although the article suggested otherwise, the emails from Stefanek show that she leveled no charge of any kind against Mr. Leas. The charge of “misrepresentation” was a fabrication of VTDigger in the weeks preceding the Air Force announcement. The emails also show that VTDigger did not believe Stefanek was quoting Mr. Leas precisely. But even if Stefanek had accurately quoted Mr. Leas, under the Air Force definition of “freelance journalist for a news media entity,” he would have been 100% accurate. Nevertheless, VTDigger’s personal attack article also announced that VTDigger would not publish any more articles by Mr. Leas.

“The (1) suppression of the request for information from the Air Force plus (2) the failure to pass on the contact information provided by Ann Stefanek plus (3) the defamatory attack on and the (4) silencing of a writer that the Air Force would consider a freelancer for VTDigger plus (5) the failure of VTDigger to do its own digging into anticipated fleet flight hours for the F-35A add up to a totally irresponsible role for VTDigger that facilitated the scheme to impose the high-risk F-35A on the most heavily populated region in Vermont,” Mr. Leas said. For details and a link to the full Stefanek-VTDigger correspondence see the article, “Open Letter to VTDigger Co-Publisher, Anne Galloway: Banned by VTDigger,” on greenmountaindaily.com.

The renewed FOIA request, below, should result in the public at last finding out what the Joint Strike Fighter Program Office thinks will be the F-35A fleet flight hours when the F-35A is scheduled to arrive in Burlington in 2020.

–30–

——– Forwarded Message ——–

Subject: FOIA request F-35 fleet flight hours

Date: Wed, 19 Nov 2014 21:57:31 -0700

From: James Marc Leas

Organization: Law Office of James Marc Leas

To: public affairs JSF

Joint Strike Fighter Program Office

Department of Defense

Dear Madam or Sir:

Under the Freedom of Information Act, please provide me with documents, including:

   a chart or charts or pages of documents having the information in any other format showing anticipated fleet flight hours for the F-35-A year by year

   a chart or charts or pages of documents having the information in any other format showing anticipated cumulative fleet flight hours for the F-35-A for each year or years for which information is available

   a chart or charts or pages of documents having the information in any other format showing anticipated fleet flight hours for all F-35 variants year by year

   a chart or charts or pages of documents having the information in any other format showing anticipated cumulative fleet flight hours for all F-35 variants for each year or years for which information is available

   a chart or charts or pages of documents having the information in any other format showing anticipated fleet flight hours for the F-35-A year by year until the end of 2020

   a chart or charts or pages of documents having the information in any other format showing anticipated cumulative fleet flight hours for the F-35-A by the end of 2020

   a chart or charts or pages of documents having the information in any other format showing anticipated fleet flight hours for all F-35 variants year by year until the end of 2020

   a chart or charts or pages of documents having the information in any other format showing anticipated cumulative fleet flight hours for all F-35 variants by the end of 2020

As to charge for the documents, I request consideration under C6.1.5.2.2.2 and under C6.1.5.7.1. for News Media. The attachments demonstrate a solid basis for expecting publication through a news media entity. I request that you look to the attached past publication record in making your determination as well as to the attached email from editor Leslie Thatcher, contents editor at Truthout.org, stating that I have a solid basis for expecting publication of my submissions by Truthout.org. I am willing to pay duplication charges in excess of 100 pages if more than 100 pages of records are provided.

As you may know, an order issued by the Secretary of the Air Force entitled, “Freedom of Information Act Program,” dated 21 October 2010 and updated on 24 April 2012 and having number DOD5400.7-R_AFMAN 33-302 has the same wording as the freedom of information act where it states:

In the case of “freelance” journalists, they may be regarded as working for a news organization if they can demonstrate a solid basis for expecting publication through that organization, even though not actually employed by it. A publication contract would be the clearest proof, but Components may also look to the past publication record of a requester in making this determination.

In addition, I request that the documents be furnished without charge, or at a charge reduced below fees assessed to the categories of requesters in subsection C6.1.5. because the waiver or reduction of the fees is in the public interest because furnishing the information is likely to contribute significantly to public understanding of the operations or activities of the Department of Defense and is not in any way in the commercial interest of the requester.

Thank you very much.

best regards,

James Marc Leas

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