Friday, April 27, 2012

What Do We Buy After the F-35?

I'm convinced that, badly as the air force boys want the F-35, even if they got it they would soon be back, begging bowl in hand.

Everyone, especially those air force guys boosting the F-35 option at the moment, knows this airplane is "tits on a boar hog" useless for the Canada First, defence of Canada mission.  It just comes up short on everything needed for Canada's vast north - range, speed, payload, twin-engine reliability.  It is sort of like the antithesis of what Canada actually needs.   The F-35, however, is what we need to participate in American-led air wars abroad.  It's what we need to be "players."

Those same F-35 boosters know that the demand for a viable Canadian air presence in the far north is going to become much greater as the Arctic ice recedes and the area is opened up to resource exploration and global shipping.   We'll need meaningful numbers of capable aircraft up there if for no other purpose than to demonstrate to those who have not accepted our territorial claims that we're serious about our northern sovereignty.

My guess is that once they get those F-35s in Canadian hangars these air force boys, or whoever has their job by then, will be coming back saying, "Oh no, those things are no good for the north.  They can't do the job and, even if they could, there's not remotely enough of them.   We need another jet."  And then they'll proceed to make the case for why Canada needs another jet, the same case that opponents of the F-35 have been making all along.  And, by then, the need for that other jet will be obvious to just about everybody and we'll sigh deeply and sign another cheque to buy the jets that we needed all along.  Game, set and match - Royal Canadian Air Force.

If we're going to avoid that scenario, there's only one way to go about it.   We need the air force to do what it should have done all along - produce a list of operational requirements for its CF-18 replacement.   That requirement statement should receive at least a cursory Parliamentary examination and debate.   Then aircraft manufacturers should be invited to offer whatever they have that seems to meet our requirements.

That is how we acquired the CF-18.  The Trudeau government initiated the NFA or New Fighter Acquisition programme.   Specifications were stated, proposals were invited.   A short list of candidates then brought their aircraft to Canada for flight demonstrations.   We had a look and negotiated deals.   We got the CF-18, unquestionably the most successful Canadian combat aircraft in generations.

Canada really lucked out on that one.   The US Air Force had the F-15 as its key fighter/interceptor.   The US Navy had the F-14 Tomcat.    Both services were looking to supplement their heavyweights with a lower cost, lightweight option.   General Dynamics came up with the highly-successful, single-engined F-16.  Northrop produced the F-17 Hornet.   The F-16 won. 

Northrop had a great design though so they joined with McDonnell Douglas and beefed it up for naval service and transformed it into the F-18 which was accepted into the US Navy inventory.  When we looked at it there had been no foreign buyers for the F-18 so the makers were in a mood to bargain.   The Canadian deal was followed by sales to Australia, Spain, Finland, Switzerland, Kuwait and Malaysia.

In other words we know how to do this stuff.    We have our experience in selecting and purchasing the CF-18 as a template.  There is absolutely no justification in single-sourcing a fighter that is so obviously inadequate to our needs.   If  we do buy the F-35 it won't be long at all before we're once again shopping for another aircraft to do the job the 35 simply can't.


Steve said...

The ideal plane for Canada would be to zero hour the existing F18. All the work could be done in Canada. Then take the change and develop a Dash 8 Bomber/drone for killing the defenseless and patrol.

The Mound of Sound said...

I don't know that we can truly zero-hour the existing 18s. What remains of the original fleet is pretty high hour and limited in numbers.

As for what we do need, we're in a bit of a fog. We can come up with baseline requirements for the north but what factors could we overlook? You would need a crystal ball to see what the north will look like in 2030 to do that. I think that argues for leaving ourselves with options and a degree of redundant capbility.