Friday, November 05, 2010

Harper In a Hornet's Nest

Boeing and Dassault, the respective makers of the Super Hornet and Rafale jet fighters, argue they were unfairly treated in Harper's decision to buy the F-35 as Canada's next jet.   Both companies claim their latest aircraft in fact meet Canada's stated requirements.  They're probably right but don't expect that to change Harper's mind.

But what is with Harper's stealth fetish anyway?   Canada won't be able to use the aircraft's stealth capabilities unless we're part of a NATO campaign or under the direction of the US Air Force.

A stealth aircraft is essentially blind.  It can't use its radar because that would give it away and invite an enemy to fire upon it.  So it relies on another aircraft, an AWACS, to be its eyes.   The AWACS, based on the 50's era Boeing 707, has this massive radar dome.   It spots the opposition's aircraft and relays that information to the stealth fighters along with instructions on which fighter is to attack which targets.

Canada, of course, doesn't have any AWACS, unless of course the Tories have concealed plans to buy them to support the F-35s.   The price tag for an AWACS is about $270-million a pop which, come to think of it, might wind up cheaper than the final price of an F-35.

Speaking of costs, U.S. government officials said earlier this week that the Pentagon can expect to face increasing costs and further delays of up to another three years in development of the F-35.   The aircraft is already four years behind schedule.   The Pentagon is now admitting that the F-35 will probably be half again as expensive to maintain as the aircraft it will replace.

How many more reviews will Gates have to hear before he acknowledges the F-35 is an unaffordable failure?” said Winslow Wheeler, a program critic who is director of the Washington- based Straus Military Reform Project.  “The F-35 is rapidly becoming a millstone around his neck.”
Chalmers Johnson in his book, Dismantling the Empire, claims Lockheed Martin, which also produces the F-22 air superiority fighter, is banking on F-35 sales to make good what it lost when the White House canned future F-22 orders:

"...So far the F-35 shows every sign of being, in Chuck Spinney's* words, 'a far more costly and more troubled turkey' than the F-22, 'even thought it has a distinction that even the F-22 cannot claim, namely it is tailored to meet the same threat that ...ceased to exist at least three years before the F-35 R&D program began in 1994.'

The F-35 is considerably more complex than the F-22, meaning that it will undoubtedly be even more expensive to repair and will break down even more easily.  Its cost per plane is guaranteed to continue to spiral upward.   The design of the F-22 involves 4 million lines of computer code' the F-35, 19 million lines.  The Pentagon sold the F-35 to Congress in 1998 with the promise of a unit cost of $184 millikon per aircraft.  By 2008, that had risen to $355 million per aircraft, and the plane was already two years behind schedule."

* Chuck Spinney is a former military analyst for the Pentagon who became famous in the early 1980s for what became known as the "Spinney Report", criticizing what he described as the reckless pursuit of costly complex weapon systems by the Pentagon, with disregard to budgetary consequences. Despite attempts by his superiors to bury the controversial report, it eventually was exposed during a United States Senate  Budget Committee on Defense hearing, which though scheduled to go unnoticed, made the cover of Time Magazine March 7, 1983.

It looks as though Harper/Mackay have inked a deal that saddles Canada with a pig of an aircraft while the Americans might still wash their hands of the whole thing.  This is a fighter that the Pentagon's own think tank, the RAND Corporation, slammed as:
“double inferior” to modern SU-30 family fighters within visual range combat; thrust and wing loading issues are noted, all summed up in one RAND background slide as “can’t [out]turn, can’t [out]climb, can’t [out]run.”

There's a lot of meat on this bone for the Liberals and NDP to gnaw on.  They can't afford to let Harper continue to frame this issue.  The F-35 looked a lot better four years ago than it does today.   Now we can see it warts and all and it's full of warts.


Anonymous said...

"unless we're [...] under the direction of the US Air Force"

I think this may be the key. I may be overly influenced by some of my current reading, but I think the idea of generally being a "branch plant" for the US is something that is high on the Harper (and possibly overall Conservative and, to a lesser extent, Liberal) agenda.

Military: fight in US, not internationally, approved actions

Health: move to a US style system

Finance: ape the tax cuts and deregulation of the US (though SH is happy to take credit for the results of banking regulation that he fought against).

Security & Environment: Follow in lock-step US policy on no-fly lists, border control, and carbon emissions (e.g. cap&trade)

The Mound of Sound said...

For sure, this a/c seems intended to 'serve' Canada in service to other nations. America has been treating NATO as its own Foreign Legion ever since 9/11 and Washington's mounting fiscal woes seem to assure that will continue.

The F-35 could well be an element of 'deep integration' with the U.S. That's the only way it seems to make any sense.