Tuesday, September 22, 2015

F-35 on the Block Again!

Liberal leader Justin Trudeau's latest ploy to get headlines is telling everyone he will scrap the F-35 Lightning if he is elected Prime Minister. 

Canada has agreed to buy some of these very expensive planes to eventually replace its aging CF-18 Hornet fighters.  We have invested millions into the research and development of this very sophisticated plane.  Now Trudeau wants to scrap the deal.  He says it won't cost Canada anything.  I beg to differ.

When these planes are built for the RCAF, many components will be made here in Canada, giving many, many people jobs.  I would imagine some companies are already set to start making these parts. 

It's going to cost us money to get out of those deals, like it did when the Liberals bailed out of the EH-101 helicopter deal some years back. That was newly elected Jean Chr├ętien's election promise.  It cost the federal government millions of dollars to get out of that deal to build those helicopters here.  (After Canada paid out all those penalties, the Liberals decided to replace the aging Labrador helicopters with EH-101s, built in Europe!!)

Going back into history, Canada's Avro Arrow was also a victim of a Conservative election promise.  Then-newly elected  John Diefenbaker did the deed, that time!

Now I hear the new ships for our navy are also on the chopping block!

I think we need to stop putting new military equipment onto the election campaign platforms!  They don't belong there!  The men and women in Canada's armed forces need to be provided with the best equipment possible, without having to worry whether the next government will zap that equipment!

3 comments:

  1. I'm not supporting the Liberals in this election, but I agree with a few points made by Trudeau (and others) about the F-35.

    First off, it's not just "very expensive" - it is becoming the most expensive weapons system ever made. And even the Americans, with their notoriously bloated and politicized weapons procurement system, are reducing their F-35 orders and some (like former US Defense Secretary Robert Gates) talking about cancelling the program, because it has not met expectations during testing. The Dutch Parliament has voted to cancel their order. The UK has grumbled about cancelling theirs, due to disputes over software coding. Trudeau isn't completely out on a limb about this.

    As for the argument that Canadian-made parts are integral to the overall program and that Canadian jobs being at stake, that's long been claimed but never proven. The Ottawa Citizen questioned this claim back in 2012, and did not receive any numbers, while the Rideau Institute's Steven Staples has directly challenged the assertion as being "dubious, at best." (In fairness, Staples is also a pacifist, so I don't think you'd find a weapons system he'd like.) It seems that the claim keeps being made largely by Conservative politicians, but the proof is in the pudding: What Canadian jobs? Where are they? Who are they?

    Nobody will say, certainly not the Harper government who sole-sourced this contract without competition. How do we know it's the best for us? It's certainly the most expensive, but that doesn't mean it's the best.

    Which brings up the other question that nobody is really asking, this election: what do we need this aircraft for? I've never been able to figure that out. One of the CF-18s primary requirements was to be able to do sovereignty patrols in the High Arctic, but the F-35 doesn't have the same capability -- and would not have passed the same competitions the CF-18 had to, in the early 1980s! Seems like a large, and very expensive, step backward in capability for the Air Force.

    In the face of those serious questions, I think it's fair that it be made an election issue - after all, civilian oversight of our military is a cornerstone of our system. I agree that our military needs the very best equipment that we can afford, but the F-35 is rather extravagant for Canada's needs, especially at its price tag - which, according to the Auditor General, is expected to balloon far beyond the Conservatives' estimates.

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  2. Your facts may be accurate Rhys, but it remains true that governments should not be messing with equipment for our armed forces! If we cancel the F-35 we will be left with nothing after our aging CF-18s are timed out. (At least two are in museums now for that very reason.) Going back into history again, when the Arrow was cancelled Canada was without an aircraft to do the job for which it was intended. We ended up renting or borrowing substandard Voodoo fighters from the U.S.A.F.

    When the EH-101 contracts were cancelled, we were left without a up-to-date helicopter to replace our aging Sea King choppers. They're still flying! The Cormorants are EH-101s built in Europe and they replaced the old Labrador helicopters but the Sea Kings stagger on. Replacements have been ordered for the Sea Kings but they have yet to be in service!

    Canada has to borrow or rent supply ships from other countries because its own supply ships were not replaced before they became unseaworthy. New warships for the Navy are still at least a decade away!

    I think time to replace the F-35 order with a cheaper plane like the American F-18 Super Hornet or Rhino has passed. Millions have been invested. The F-35 may be stupidly expensive but at least the RCAF will be able to fly something!

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    Replies
    1. The military - not unlike police and fire departments at the municipal level - simply don't get to pick their own equipment and just expect taxpayers to pick up the tab. There has to be civilian oversight and, sometimes, corrections made by politicians when a deal turns bad. That's just being responsible with public money.

      If we cancel the F-35, the millions invested under the Liberal government (which initially signed onto the research and development program) would be gone, plus the increased annual payments made since the last round of funding was approved under the Conservatives - which was, $551 million over 40 years, for development and "sustainment." That's been somewhere around $13-15 million a year, for the last 7 or 8 years.

      But all that money still has not bought a single airplane - it simply pays for the ongoing (and delayed) development program. And while cancelling the F-35 would mean writing off that money, it (apparently) would not mean further penalties, at least according to the Liberals' deputy minister who initially negotiated the agreement that the Conservatives continued.

      How much will it be to actually buy F-35s and get them into the air force's active service? According to the Auditor General and others, it will be $44 billion (that's with a B) over the course of the projected 42-year life span of the F-35. Any way you think of it, that is a lot of money - and way, way more than the $9 billion initially quoted to the public by the Conservatives when they went ahead with this purchase. Again, that decision was made without a competition to decide if they were really the best and most cost-effective option for our Air Force.

      I can't see how you think this would be okay, especially since the F-35 is years behind schedule and isn't meeting the requirements of testing, and has yet to enter service - much less, combat. It's been derisively called a "paper airplane" in the US, because of the lack of apparent progress getting it into active service. There are at least a few other manufacturers of fighter planes that could offer us with proven, off-the-shelf aircraft for much cheaper- even after writing off the money already spent on the F-35 - and with a much faster and certain delivery time.

      Like I said, our military deserves the best equipment, but that needs to be balanced against what we can afford. There's no assurance that the F-35 will be the best, or meets the Air Force's requirements, even if it manages to get past the test phase -- though it certainly will always be the most expensive option! With the economy the way it is, the argument may be that we can't afford it either way.

      To make an analogy, Beiseker needed a new fire engine a few years ago, to replace its existing one that was at the end of its service life. While I'm sure the Beiseker Fire Department would have wanted a brand new, top-of-the-line fire engine like what they have in Calgary, that simply wasn't an option with Beiseker's budget. So a used one was bought, instead - one that certainly isn't the fanciest or most expensive, but suits the Village's needs well. Shouldn't that same rationale be used for military equipment? The biggest, the shiniest, the newest airplane may be what the United States is buying, but it may not be suitable for Canada's needs or budget.

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