Friday, March 16, 2012

Let's Not Throw in The Towel on Canada's North

And by "throw in the towel" I'm referring to the F-35 possibly-stealthy fighter bomb truck.

We're finally seeing through the malarkey that Harper, MacKay and that dumb-assed ex-cop have been spinning about this aircraft defending Canada's northern frontier.   We know it's for anything but that job.  Well, not anything exactly.   It's to allow us to engage in offensive ground strikes in distant lands in support of multinational American adventures abroad.   We'll send six of our fighters, that other country will send nine of theirs, the next guy will chip in four and eventually we'll assemble a small air force of F-35s to bomb the hell out of whoever is the target of the month.

What's wrong with that?  E-ver-y-thang.  Everything is wrong with it.   Let's start with our de facto commander, America.  As Andrew Bacevich so powerfully chronicles in The New American Militarism, the United States has become a country so engorged on militarism that the use of military force has supplanted diplomacy as that country's principal instrument of foreign policy.   And when you buy the F-35, you're signing on to that policy.  You're part of their Foreign Legion.

The F-35 is no stand-alone combat aircraft.  Consider it as the very point of the spear head.   Without the rest of the weapon and the eyes to guide it and the muscles to launch it, it's not much to speak of.

The F-35 is an offensive weapon.  Its sole purpose is to go into some other country's airspace undetected, bomb something and then leave, again hopefully undetected.  It uses stealth technology to avoid detection by the target's air defences.  But it also needs something to guide it en route to its target.  It can't use onboard electronics because they would give away its presence.  So it needs a large airborne warning and command ship, AWACS, to be its eyes and ears.  And we don't got none of those.

Because the F-35, to be stealthy, has to store all its consumables (weapons, fuel) inside where they can be hidden, it has serious range limitations for an aircraft designed to strike deep inside someone else's country.  That means it's going to have to rely on forward positioned tankers to refuel it on its way in and again on its way out.

The Australians did the F-35 math and they found that the F-35s Achilles' Heel was its dependence on those tankers and AWACS support aircraft.   They're big and slow and ungainly, easy meat for enemy air defences especially when they have to operate so close  to the action.   So you need other fighters to defend them or try to anyway.  And we don't got none of those neither.

What the Australians found is that this critical vulnerability could easily give rise to a one-mission air war.  The defenders accept their losses, sacrifice plenty of their own fighters, but take out the tankers leaving the F-35s no fuel to get home.   You don't have to worry about locating and shooting down F-35s once they're out of juice.   They crash all on their own.

And, of course, we have good reason to question how much longer the F-35s stealth technology will work.   Just before Christmas the Iranians managed to electronically hijack and capture intact a Lockheed RQ-170 stealth drone.   That drone is expected to give the Iranians (and the Russians and Chinese) the keys to a lot of America's latest stealth technology, the secrets that make the F-35 so costly and, supposedly, invisible.

But this is about the True North Strong & Free, Canada's vast and effectively unpopulated northern frontier.   What does the F-35 bring to the table for operations up there?    First you have to give up that stealth advantage.   It doesn't go very far so you're going to have to sling outboard fuel tanks which immediately make it visible to any sort of radar.   So stealth is for some other place, not Canada.

And you're going to have to think twice about wandering too far from home.   The F-35 has just the one engine which turns out to be precisely half of the twin-engine reliability we have traditionally thought necessary for interceptor aircraft (think CF-100, CF-101, CF-18) operating in that inhospitable (dangerous) vastness.  If it's January and that single engine quits, you're going to want to get to that pilot in a hurry and you had better hope she's not far from home base.

But if we are going to rise to the challenge of Arctic development and territorial disputes, we're probably going to need a far greater military presence up there.   Which means more bases and more aircraft.  But wait, we're only buying 65 of these F-35s and may well wind up with a lot fewer as prices keep going up.   How can we do the northern sovereignty/air defence job with so few aircraft?  Well we can't and we won't.   We will, however, absolutely command the airspace over Cold Lake, Alberta and everything within a 500-mile radius of the tower.   That should shake up Vladimir Putin.

But let's not throw in the towel on Canada's north.  We need aircraft, there's nothing else that can do the job, but we need the right type of aircraft in sufficient numbers.   That job demands everything the F-35 can't deliver.

And there's your talking point.  Stephen Harper can't have it both ways, he isn't even trying.  He would rather squander Canada's defence budget on an aircraft tailor-made to work overseas  at the cost of leaving Canada's north undefended even as the resource-hungry wolves gather at the edges of the icepack.

Update - Lorne at Politics and Discontents picked up on a National Post blockbuster from John Ivison about a soon to be released report from the Auditor General that finds senior defence officials willfully misled Parliament on the F-35 deal.

The first draft of the report on replacing Canada’s fighter jets by new Auditor-General, Michael Ferguson, is said to charge the Department of National Defence with misleading Parliament...

...People familiar with the procurement process say the Air Force simply ran with Lockheed Martin’s numbers and did very little due diligence of its own. This lack of legwork is not a new phenomenon. Liberal ministers were said to have been surprised to find out that DND accepted the British military’s statement of quality assurance when Canada bought four second-hand submarines from the Royal Navy. The submarine purchase has been an unmitigated disaster and whole fleet has been out of commission in dry dock for much of the past eight years.

The department has a similarly long-standing predisposition for bamboozling its political masters. Previous Auditor-General reports in 2006 and 2010 have blasted DND for deliberately low-balling costs, in order to get the kit it wants. Two years ago, Sheila Fraser concluded National Defence knew the Chinook heavy lift helicopter it wanted to buy was not an “off the shelf” model, with a relatively low risk of cost and time overruns. Yet the department did not reveal this to Treasury Board when it sought project approval. As a result, the cost of the 15 Chinooks more than doubled to $4.9-billion and the helicopters still have not been delivered.

The Canadian military appears to be broken.   It has "gone rogue" again and again.  Senior officers' heads should have rolled for this, plenty of them.   They have crossed the Rubicon repeatedly and with a sense of impunity, something they must have picked up from their Big Brothers at the Pentagon.   In a healthy democracy this sort of abuse is intolerable and if we're to have a healthy democracy again we must resolve to cut out the rot, military and civilian.


Anonymous said...

I agree that there is previous evidence that DND had misled the government of the day.

However, do you not smell a rat here? Isn't this "leakage" of a report by a Harper appointed AG, by a paper and journalist with a reputation for being, ahem, Cons friendly, rather well timed after Harper's flip-flop on the jets?

Methinks the groundwork is being laid to shift the blame to DND. Methinks also that the DND is being "advised" to play along or else not get any more of their toys.

The Mound of Sound said...

I don't know, Anon, you could be right. Yet there's a systemic problem with DND and it's only gotten worse under Harper and MacKay. The Hillier-Harper bromance was pretty outrageous. And MacKay established a well-deserved reputation as a DND patsy. Between Harper and MacKay on the political side and generals like the now-safely retired Hillier and the rest of the Kandahar Klown Kar the Canadian armed forces and the country they are supposed to serve have both been let down.

Anonymous said...

DND would seem to be as much a rogue as the USA military; the similarities are too much to ignore.
One has to wonder in who's pocket they are in?
Ever since the Liberal EH101 helicopter fiasco military spending has been suspect.

The Mound of Sound said...

@ Anon 5:47. You raise an excellent point, one that warrants investigation. An integral part of America's bloated military/industrial complex is the revolving door that sees retired generals move directly into rewarding positions in the defence industry. If there's anything ripe for corruption it's that sort of arrangement. I would really like to know if Canadian generals are getting in on that post-retirement game. If we're entrusting them with billion-dollar acquisitions that may be linked to deferred rewards then someone needs to get that out in the open.

The Mound of Sound said...

Actually it took me all of 10-minutes to find out that indeed senior retired military officers are well entrenched in Canadian defence lobbying. Harper's first DefMin, the dim-witted O'Connor had been a lobbyist after leaving the armed forces until he got himself a cabinet post in Harper's government.

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