Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, who is running for the Democratic nomination in the second straight presidential election, has campaigned on his anti-war stance, declaring during the campaign that he will “apologize to no one” for his opposition to the U.S. wars in Vietnam and Iraq, according to his own Twitter post.
Sanders has also called for cuts in defense spending, criticizing the size of the U.S. military budget, and voting against the 2019 $716 billion defense budget put forth by the Donald Trump administration earlier this year, according to Vox. His fellow Democratic candidates, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Kamala Harris of California, and Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, also voted against the budget, along with only six other senators.
But despite his anti-war stance and opposition to increased military spending, Sanders has long supported the troubled F-35 fighter program, a program The Fiscal Times once called “the Pentagon’s incredible $1.5 trillion mistake.” A squadron of F-35 jets are set to be stationed at an airport in Sanders’ hometown of Burlington, where he served as mayor from 1981 to 1989.
The F-35 program is estimated to cost a whopping $1.5 trillion over what is projected to be its 55-year lifespan, which according to the Task & Purpose military news site makes it “one of the most expensive Pentagon programs in American history.”
Sanders has criticized the F-35’s cost as “incredibly wasteful,” in an interview with Reader Supported News, and yet he has supported the program because, he says, it brings jobs to Vermont.
The F-35 is designed to carry and deliver nuclear weapons, and as a result the Vermont activist group Citizens Against Nuclear Bombers in Vermont — a group that includes Ben & Jerry’s ice cream founder Ben Cohen and longtime environmental activist Bill McKibben — has steadfastly opposed bringing the jets to Burlington International Airport, where they will be stationed at the state’s Air National Guard base. But Sanders has said that he would oppose the bombers if they were nuclear-capable.
According to a report by CNBC, the military claims that there are no plans to upgrade the F-35 jets in Vermont to achieve nuclear capability.
“The F-35A’s coming to Vermont will not have the hardware to be nuclear-capable,” Air National Guard Captain Mikel Arcovitch told CNBC. “Vermont does not currently have a nuclear mission, nor are there plans for Vermont to have a nuclear mission.”
But the Citizens Against Nuclear Bombers in Vermont group does not believe that claim, relying instead on a statement by the Defense Department in its annual Nuclear Posture Review, saying that the U.S. military “is incorporating nuclear capability on the F-35.”
Internal Defense Department communications “indicate that the aircraft to be based in Burlington will be upgraded to the B61-12 nuclear gravity bomb variant, otherwise known as Block 4,” James Ehlers of Citizens Against Nuclear Bombers in Vermont told CNBC.