Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Will Lockheed Even Compete for Canada's Fighter Business? Don't Count on It.

As a face-saving measure the instinctively dishonest Conservatives say they have 'reset' the programme to find a CF-18 replacement and, this time, there'll be a proper competition.

Don't hold your breath.

A real competition would have the rivals all flying in to Cold Lake for flight demonstrations and evaluations.   That's how the United States chose the F-22 Raptor over the Boeing/General Dynamics contender, the F-23.   Both were put in the air, tested extensively and then a winner chosen.

When the Trudeau government went fighter shopping all the rivals took their latest and greatest to Cold Lake.   The F-14 Tomcat, the F-15 Eagle, the F-16 Falcon, the European Panavia Tornado and the F-18 Hornet.   We ran'em all through the mill, crunched the numbers, and came out with the CF-18 that has served us so well all these many years.   Good choice and we were able to negotiate a great deal on the price because we were the first foreign customer for the F-18.

The field isn't quite as big this time around, not really.   There are upgraded variants of the F-15 Eagle, the F-16 Falcon and F-18 Hornet on the market but the new kids are the Eurofighter Typhoon, the Dassault Rafale and the F-35, assuming we dismiss out of hand the latest Russian/Indian warplanes.   But you can probably count the F-35 a no-show if Canada actually has a flight demonstration requirement.   Why?   Because I think the F-35 is at too much risk of coming out looking bad.

The F-35 gives up a great many things to achieve a limited and perishable stealth advantage.  It gives up payload, fuel capacity, range, speed, climb and turn rate.  It lacks twin-engine reliability and is one of the few warplanes today that doesn't have super-cruise capability (go fast without afterburner).  The RAND Corporation concluded the F-35 can't out turn, out climb or out run even current generation Russian fighters.   So why would Lockheed want to put the F-35 up, head to head, with the Typhoon or Rafale?

Our Defence Fibber-in-Chief, Peter MacKay was fond of claiming the F-35 was chosen from a competition.   He was referring to an evaluation conducted by the Japanese only they didn't have an F-35 in the air either.   They had to go by information they received from Lockheed and that's probably all Canada is likely to get too.   And besides, the F-35 is barely halfway through its own testing programme.  It's still something of a Beta airplane.

So I'm guessing that we won't see the F-35 in the skies over northern Alberta anytime soon.   I'm not even confident that the Tories have any intention of holding a real fighter competition with or without the F-35.


Anonymous said...

I doubt they have the money to buy any new fighter aircraft.
I saw on MERX that the process is under way to replace the fleet tugs.

Steve said...

On paper its a tiger.

LeDaro said...

Yesterday there was a lengthy discussion on F-35 on CBC Power and Politics. It left the impression that F-35 is still on the table. Mackay maintaining that original purchase cost is $9 billion and that he was right the first time. $45-65 billion cost is for the life of the plane over a period of 40 years which will include maintenance and upgrades. It was a very confusing discussion which is the hallmark of Harper government.

Steve said...

I have updated my comprehensive archive of F35 follies.

The Mound of Sound said...

@ LD - that MacKay is lying is apparent in the fact that nobody, including the Americans, has any reliable idea of what the F-35 will cost. The testing completion date was bumped back THREE YEARS this past summer to 2019. Until that testing is concluded and all the bugs are identified and fixes arranged, the cost is indeterminate.

Also foreign customers' costs are influenced by the ultimate American order. The more the US forces buy the cheaper the airplane will be for other countries.

The US Air Force isn't playing ball. Its approach is to cap its spending and try to get as many airframes as possible for that fixed amount of money. As the costs increase that decreases the American buy and as the number of airframes the Americans buy declines so increases the unit price for foreign customers. Again there is no way for MacKay or anyone else to reliably assess this.

And then there's the problem of an airplane that won't be finalized until 2019 versus an adversary that is responding with its own new designs.

The sales pitch for the F-35 has been that its range, payload and other performance deficiencies didn't matter because of its gigantic stealth advantage. That stealth advantage, mainly hype in any case, has always been presented in the context of "5th generation F-35" versus 4th generation, antiquated enemy fighters. It was never calculated based on an adversary that believes it already has the F-35's stealth neutralized but is also deploying its own stealth fighters against it.

I'm figuring that, when you're fighting in your own airspace, defending against a stealth light bomber with major performance deficiencies, true stealth fighter aircraft operating in defence have a huge advantage over a stealth attacker.

The F-35 was never designed to fight stealth adversaries.