Thursday, December 06, 2012

Sifting Through the Smoking Wreckage of Canada's F-35 Fiasco

Never to Be

The Harper government's abandonment of the "troubled" F-35 buy has seismic implications.

This is the first time Stephen Harper truly lost his mojo.  He wanted this hopelessly flawed warplane so badly that he was prepared to lie and have his cabinet menagerie do the same.  It was Canada's admission ticket to America's aerial Foreign Legion.  It was stepping up to the plate, staring down the critics at home, standing "shoulder to shoulder" with all the big boys - America, Britain, Australia - all the English-speaking major-leaguers.

Curiously enough it wasn't the F-35's litany of flaws or the delays and budget overruns that killed it.   The F-35 died because Harper could no longer lie about the costs of the damned thing.   He was caught out like an errant schoolboy without his homework.   Now we know he lied straight into the faces of the Canadian people and he kept on lying and his cabinet minions backed him up with their own lies until the truth couldn't be concealed any longer.

Harper would rather let the F-35 crash and burn than explain why he lied so badly for so long.  He won't defend the airplane or explain why he was so insistent that Canada buy it.

The bureaucrats outed Harper a week back when they leaked documents establishing that Harper and his cabinet were kept fully informed about everything to do with the F-35 at every turn.  They obviously knew that Harper would head to the bunker and leave them to catch the shrapnel if only he could get away with it.  This could be a sign that the mandarins have had their fill of Harper's bully tactics and are finally ready to turn on him.

This time, at long last, something is going to stick to Harper.  He lied to the Canadian people to the tune of thirty billion dollars plus.

But wait, there's more.   Harper's blatant deceit comes at a real cost to the Air Force and its pilots.   Canada should have undertaken a real, competitive fly-off of the latest fighters on the market and that should've been done years ago.   Those contracts should have been signed a long time ago and those new fighters should have been arriving in Canadian  hangars by now.   But, due entirely to the rank dishonesty of Harper and his key cabinet ministers, Canada has to go back to square one.    The fiasco sits atop the dishonesty that sits atop Steve Harper's manicured head.

How badly is Harper wounded?  It's hard to tell but he's never crawled out from under something of this magnitude.   I hope he's wounded badly, very badly, badly enough that we can now take his cherished Northern Gateway down.

As for the F-35 itself, I'm absolutely convinced it's no loss.  It was an over-priced, overdue and under-performing light bomber that could never meet Canada's requirements.   It was deficient in just about everything that makes any warplane great - speed, range, payload and agility.   Yes it had a very promising, state of the art, electronics suite but there's no reason to believe much of that technology couldn't be incorporated into another, more capable airframe.

We'll have to wait and see whether Canada's withdrawal from the F-35 club has a domino effect.   I wonder whether the way Harper pulled the plug wasn't intended to ensure that the true cost estimates, that could be not just embarrassing but damaging to other would-be buyers and Lockheed itself, might never see the light of day.   Keeping that truth under wraps could be Harper's parting, consolation gift to Lockheed Martin.

At the end of the day, this could be Stephen Harper's John Diefenbaker/Avro Arrow moment.   We might be second guessing what really happened decades from now.

Update - What is with Conservatives and their constant trouble with warplanes?   We had Diefenbaker who had cutting torches taken to the Avro Arrow in the dark of night and the follow-on Bomarc missile fiasco.   Then it was Mulroney and the uproar over the CF-18 maintenance contract.  Then it was Kim Campbell trying to saddle Canada with an ultra-expensive, anti-submarine warfare helicopter to defend against a, by then, non-existing threat.   Now we have Harper doing something eerily reminiscent of Diefenbaker to the F-35.  What in hell is wrong with these people?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

That word domino is the real reason why Harper's stuck to this thing with such near-religious fervor.

You've and I have been looking for a political reason for it, but we forget Harper's primary concern. To appropriate a certain turn of phrase, it's the economy stupid!

The Americans see Canada as the lynch-pin in the F-35. As you know, they plan to sell it to all and sundry, regardless of whether or not its any good at anything. If we back out, then the Americans are afraid that everybody else will pull the plug also.

The partners are sticking to it because while I don't have the economic chops to prove it, I suspect that the F-35 is quite literally holding up the American economy at this point. If it should tank, then we all have much to lose. Lockheed Martin will lose billions, and not only that, but the US has absolutely no backup plan, and it would be too late to and too expensive to start a new one. The American public won't accept anything that isn't "made in America," and surely several political incumbents will lose their jobs over it. But worse, it's difficult to know how many American jobs are riding on this thing, and one has to wonder just how much retirement income is dependent on Lockheed Martin's bottom line. The more I think about it, and the more it seems so obvious: the one and only reason that Harper would so stubbornly back this plane would be that if the program were scrapped, that it would also sink the American economy and ours with it.

That would also explain Harper's bizarre decision to allow the Nexen takeover, and the endlessly parroted need for the Northern Gateway Pipeline. These are the best contingency plans available in the event that the F-35 tanks; he's doing everything he can to soften the economic blow for Canada in case the program failed.

It's a house of cards, and we're now desperately trying not to rock the table. It also explains the stubbornness with which our allies, Britain, Norway, South Korea, Japan and Israel are clinging to the F-35 - they have a lot to lose in an American recession as well. And upon realizing this, I'm not sure that Harper feels he has any choice but to back this albatross. Why else would he expend so much political capital, unless the economy of Canada depended on it?