Tuesday, November 08, 2011
Can Canada Escape Getting F-35'd?
One of the most worrisome aspects (there are several) of the Harper government's F-35 fetish is the paltry number of them we'll be able to afford. This deal is already stretched so tight, and getting tighter with each passing week, that we'll have to make do with a miniscule fleet of aircraft that we could be stuck with for up to 30-years. A Canadian air force study revealed that the 65-airframe deal won't even allow for attrition replacement. Fighter jets crash. It's in the nature of the beasts. You're supposed to order the number you'll need and top that up with extra aircraft to replace those you'll lose in accidents.
It sounds as though Harper and his boy, MacKay, are setting Canada up to get F-35'd (think of another word that begins with "F") on this deal. It wouldn't be the first time a Tory prime minister sold out our air force and our country for political expedience (think Bomarc missile).
But there might be a way not to get F-35'd. Let's not get stuck with just one aircraft. Cut the F-35 order down to, say, 24. Two, 8-aircraft squadrons for active duty with another 8 ships sitting in reserve. That actually makes good sense. The F-35 is a high-tech ground attack or strike fighter designed for offensive missions against a high-tech air defence. When we get into that sort of thing we'll probably be operating under American or NATO command because they have all the support aircraft and systems necessary to let the F-35 work its "magic." So let's trim our sails to be realistic. And, besides, most of the other captive "partner" nations are getting cold feet on the F-35 including the Brits so we won't stand out if we tailor our order to Canada's needs.
And then let's figure out what sort of aircraft we really need to defend Canada and use the money we save on a smaller F-35 order to buy them. There are plenty out there. We could have a competition. We could solicit competitive bids. We could dictate terms for cost-offset, industrial benefits. We could do this right.
We could get what we need which is just another way of saying everything the F-35 is not. An aircraft with twin-engine safety, high speed, long range, agility, high weapons payload - a next generation equivalent of the CF-18 chosen by the Trudeau government that has served Canada so well over the past three decades. This way, when the F-35's brittle stealth technology is neutralized (and it will be in due course) and we're left with a hyper-expensive flying pig we can't take out in public, at least we'll have a fleet of relatively capable fighters to fill in as backup.
This might be the only way Canada can escape getting F-35'd.