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VT F-35s Remain Unfunded as Interest Grows for Other Jets

General Electric employees in North Clarendon pushed for federal funding to continue making fighter jet engines.

NORTH CLARENDON, Vt. - Thursday Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin visited the General Electric plant in North Clarendon to throw his support behind the work employees there do for Boeing’s Super Hornet and Growler fighter jets.

The U.S. Navy is pushing Congress to fund 22 new Growlers and at the GE plant, Shumlin joined executives from both GE and Boeing in pushing for the federal funding.

Governor Shumlin took the controls of a Super Hornet simulator Monday, firing missiles and pulling off barrel rolls. He liked what he saw.

“It's absolutely critical to going in and getting the job done,” Shumlin said referring to the Super Hornet and Growler.

Along with the jobs it provides North Clarendon, it’s why he hopes the Growler should get funding from the federal government in 2015. Boeing is paid to make five while 22 are still unfunded. But the U.S. Navy has put the 22 Growlers on their unfunded priority list. The $2.1 billion project has to be approved by Congress. They’re expected to finalize the defense budget in July.

According to Boeing, the Growler is advanced in Airborne Electronic Attack (AEA) mission. It “incorporates advanced AEA avionics bringing transformational capability for suppression of enemy air defenses (SEAD) and non-traditional electronic attack operations.”

1150 employees work at the GE plant in North Clarendon. Right now 40 of them make the engine parts for Boeings Growler. Their jobs aren't in jeopardy if Boeing doesn't get the contract.

“They will be absorbed into other programs,” GE plant manager Dan Dibattista said.

Boeing’s Super Hornet and Growler program manager Mike Gibbons hopes they get the funding for 2015 and even more in future years.

“The beauty of what the Navy is talking about is an emerging requirement for many more Growlers,” Gibbons said.

If Boeing does get the contract it could put funding for other projects in jeopardy such as the F-35, made by Lockheed Martin.

Gibbons said he believes the Growler and Super Hornet are superior to the F-35, particularly the Growler’s ability for enemy electronic suppression. 18 F-35’s are set to land at the Vermont Air National Guard by 2020 with a projected cost of $1.5 billion.

“Do you think both Boeing and Lockheed Martin can get contracts and Vermont could see both of these projects move forward?” reporter David Hodges asked.

“What I would expect is future years of continued competition in air craft development,” Gibbons said.

“Super Hornets, Growlers, F-35s other aircraft, that is good for both the war fighter and it’s good for the nation’s eceonomy.”

When asked if Vermonters should be excited about the F-35 being located in the state Gibbons said any investment that protects the “war fighter” is good work.

“Vermont’s plant here for General Electric is supporting the Growler and the Super Hornet line. They should be extremely proud and excited about the work they do,” Gibbons said.

We also asked Governor Shumlin if he believes Vermont could get both the F-35s and see continued funding for the Growler program at the GE plant.

“Well we know the F-35 is being funded. I’m thrilled we're going to be getting them in Vermont,” Shumlin said.

But according to the Air Force the Vermont F-35s are not funded yet and won't be for a while.

The contract Boeing is seeking for 2015 is not in competition with Vermont’s F-35s but if the U.S. Navy keeps backing production of the growlers in future years, competition for federal dollars could heat up.

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