Canada and Joint Strike Fighters

Responding to criticism about Canada’s decision to purchase 65 Lockheed-Martin Joint Strike Fighters (F-35), through a sole source contract for a total cost of about $16 billion, the government has twice highlighted interceptions of Russian bombers as justifications for the purchase.

Does this analysis make any sense?

Partly, it comes down to what the Russians are trying to do. If they just wanted to obliterate Canada, they would do so using ground- and submarine-based ballistic missiles, and perhaps cruise missiles. There would be no reason to send vulnerable bombers into Canadian airspace. On the other hand, just as NATO regularly tests Russian air defence systems, the Russians could be flying into Canadian territory to provoke us into pointing RADAR in their direction, so they can try to suss out what capabilities we have. Finally, the flights could be an attempt to assert sovereignty or de facto control over the Arctic.

In the foreseeable future, the only plausible path to a war with Russia would be an invasion of a central European country prompting an armed response from NATO. In such a circumstance, Canadian Joint Strike Fighters could conceivably be useful. They could also potentially be useful in conflicts like Afghanistan, where air superiority and close air support are clear advantages for Canada and its allies. Also, purchasing Joint Strike Fighters could help keep Canada in the good graces of the United States, especially given how politically savvy the big defence companies are, and how strategic they are about spreading big weapon contract jobs across the country.

Does that justify a price tag of around $500 per Canadian? Does it justify whatever ‘collateral damage’ will result from the purchase of the jets?

Author: Milan

In the spring of 2005, I graduated from the University of British Columbia with a degree in International Relations and a general focus in the area of environmental politics. In the fall of 2005, I began reading for an M.Phil in IR at Wadham College, Oxford. Outside school, I am very interested in photography, writing, and the outdoors. I am writing this blog to keep in touch with friends and family around the world, provide a more personal view of graduate student life in Oxford, and pass on some lessons I've learned here.

73 thoughts on “Canada and Joint Strike Fighters”

  1. Another factor to consider: how much extra swagger will Canadian Prime Ministers have at international meetings, if they get 65 F35s to play with?

  2. “Does it justify whatever ‘collateral damage’ will result from the purchase of the jets?”

    What do you mean by collateral damage? Are you talking about Public Relations?

    The serious question is, is the purchase in Canada’s strategic security interests, or is it only in the interests of small factions.

  3. I meant unintentionally killed civilians.

    It seems likely that at least some of these jets will be used in future operations like the ongoing war in Afghanistan and, by extension, some civilians will be killed who would not have been if Canada had never bought them and they were never built.

  4. “It seems likely that at least some of these jets will be used in future operations like the ongoing war in Afghanistan and, by extension, some civilians will be killed who would not have been if Canada had never bought them and they were never built.”

    While I appreciate your concern for the killing of innocent civilians, perhaps it would be better directed as a holistic interpretation of the fact and manner of Canada’s involvement in specific armed conflicts, rather than towards a particular piece of hardware. If the Jets will kill innocent civilians, it won’t be because of any special properties of the Jet, but because of decisions made by soldiers and commanders.

  5. I think weapons systems are a situation in which supply creates its own demand; when states buy weapons, chances are they will end up being used.

    For instance, whenever NATO is organizing a joint operation, they will make requests of member states based on the kind of hardware and manpower they have available. As such, buying jets quite possibly increases the number of people who will die in future conflicts.

  6. “For instance, whenever NATO is organizing a joint operation, they will make requests of member states based on the kind of hardware and manpower they have available.”

    Any NATO state which has ratified the UN charter is not bound to participate in any armed engagement which subverts attempts

    “…to bring about by peaceful means, and in conformity with the principles of justice and international law, adjustment or settlement of international disputes or situations which might lead to a breach of the peace”

    There is certainly no agreement that the NATO operation in Afghanistan is helping rather than hindering attempts to fight terrorist forces in the region, and there is no consensus that “peaceful means” could not better accomplish the claimed strategic goals for the region. If NATO chooses to to make request of states that subvert the basic values of international peace and cooperation, then no states are under any obligation to acquiesce to those requests or to remain members of a military alliance designed to protect us from the evils of communism.

  7. My point is: the likelihood that the new planes will cause civilian casualties that would not otherwise occur is one thing that should be taken into consideration, in assessing the wisdom of the decision.

    As for the legal obligations of NATO states, they certainly are legally bound to come to one another’s aid in the event that one of them is attacked:

    The Parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all and consequently they agree that, if such an armed attack occurs, each of them, in exercise of the right of individual or collective self-defence recognised by Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations, will assist the Party or Parties so attacked by taking forthwith, individually and in concert with the other Parties, such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area.

    Any such armed attack and all measures taken as a result thereof shall immediately be reported to the Security Council. Such measures shall be terminated when the Security Council has taken the measures necessary to restore and maintain international peace and security.

    The right to collective self defence is affirmed in Article 51 of the UN Charter:

    Nothing in the present Charter shall impair the inherent right of individual or collective self-defense if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations, until the Security Council has taken measures necessary to maintain international peace and security. Measures taken by Members in the exercise of this right of self-defense shall be immediately reported to the Security Council and shall not in any way affect the authority and responsibility of the Security Council under the present Charter to take at any time such action as it deems necessary in order to maintain or restore international peace and security.

    In short, until such a time as the Security Council has “restore[d] and maintain[ed] peace and security” states can take the measures they deem necessary, including the use of force.

  8. “the likelihood that the new planes will cause civilian casualties that would not otherwise occur is one thing that should be taken into consideration, in assessing the wisdom of the decision.”

    The reason this is nonsense is that the same people who decide to buy the planes are those who decide whether to use them to kill civilians.

    And, if you think Article 51 can justify the attack on Iran, you must also think that it could justify an invasion of the UK by the US if the IRA had carried out a bombing in Boston?

  9. Military systems like fighter aircraft last for decades. People have been making B52s since 1946.

    As such, the probable uses for these F35s lie a lot farther out than the question of bombing Iran or letting them develop nuclear weapons. One or the other of those things may well take place before Canada even receives the planes.

  10. Canada has been involved in the Joint Strike Fighter Program from its beginning, investing US$10 million to be an “informed partner” during the evaluation process. Once Lockheed Martin was selected as the primary contractor for the JSF program, Canada elected to become a level 3 participant along with Norway, Denmark, Turkey, and Australia on the JSF project. An additional US$100 million from the Canadian Department of National Defence (DND) over 10 years and another $50 million from Industry Canada were dedicated in 2002, making them an early participant of the JSF program.

    Alan S. Williams of Queen’s University has indicated that he believes that Canada’s rationale for joining the JSF project was not due to an urgent need to replace Canada’s fleet of CF-18 Hornets; instead, it was driven primarily by economics. Through Canadian government investment in the JSF project, Williams says that Canadian companies were allowed to compete for contracts within the JSF project, as there were fears that being shut out from industrial participation in such a large program would severely damage the Canadian aviation industry. Joining also furthered Canadian access to information regarding the F-35 as a possible contender when it eventually plans to replace the CF-18 Hornet fleet. Improved interoperability with major allies allowed the DND to gain insight on leading edge practices in composites, manufacturing and logistics, and offered the ability to recoup some investment if the government did decide to purchase the F-35.

    As a result of the Canadian government investment in the JSF project, 144 contracts were awarded to Canadian companies, universities, and government facilities. Financially, the contracts are valued at US$490 million for the period 2002 to 2012, with an expected value of US$1.1 billion from current contracts in the period between 2013 and 2023, and a total potential estimated value of Canadian JSF involvement from US$4.8 billion to US$6.8 billion.”

  11. You touch, Milan, upon a couple of things that suggest to me that the PMO is so far more interested in spinning facile fabrication than in supportable public policy:
    1) PMO spokesperson Dmitri Soudas has twice trotted out long range Russian bomber incursions to justify buying JSFs, and;
    2) The Tu95 bombers in question are Soviet cold-war counterparts to the B52s you mention. As in, they first flew in 1952.

    The cost-benefit ratio of buying a clutch of hideously expensive advanced stealth aircraft capable of Mach2+, to chase the occasional 60-year old subsonic turboprop is kinda murky. Oh, okay, outright illogical…

  12. Is there any reason we actually have to be fearful of Russian bombers violating Canadian Airspace? American planes (our allies) regularly violated Soviet Airspace during the Cold War – that was the whole point of the SR-71 project. And sure, the Soviets developed the Mach 3 Foxbat in response to the abandoned (they didn’t know that part)Valkyrie project, but really – were any of these violations of airspace actually going to compromise anyone’s national security?

    More than anything, all this gesturing reminds me of immature children playing. They should stop pandering to their bully friends and get to work saving the species.

  13. “One response to high manpower costs is to rely on technology. But that does not come cheap. Study after study shows that the price of combat aircraft has been rising substantially faster than inflation, often faster than GDP. The same is true of warships. In a book published in 1983, Norman Augustine, a luminary of the aerospace industry, drafted a series of lighthearted “laws”. In one aphorism, he plotted the exponential growth of unit cost for fighter aircraft since 1910 (see chart 2), and extrapolated it to its absurd conclusion:

    “In the year 2054, the entire defence budget will purchase just one aircraft. This aircraft will have to be shared by the Air Force and Navy 3½ days each per week except for leap year, when it will be made available to the Marines for the extra day.”

    Nearly three decades on, Mr Augustine says, “we are right on target. Unfortunately nothing has changed.” These days Raptors go for $160m apiece ($350m including the cost of developing the jet), compared with $50m-60m for the venerable F-16. In the long run, high unit costs must limit numbers. Since 1970 America’s fleets of combat aircraft and major warships have shrunk, even as defence spending rose (see chart 3).”

  14. “Mr Pugh also identified another intriguing trend: the race for bigger, better weapons is fiercest in peacetime but tends to fall once war actually breaks out. At that point, he argues, quantity takes precedence over quality. So the fact that the cold war never turned hot may help explain why Western ministries of defence got into the habit of developing weapons slowly and expensively. “You cannot optimise cost, performance and development-time at the same time,” says Mr Krepinevich. “In the cold war everything was sacrificed to performance.” Cost was secondary, and time was least important of all, given that there was no shooting war. The F-22 began development before the end of the cold war; so did the Typhoon.”

  15. Russian bombers a make-believe threat

    Michael Byers

    Don Quixote is famous for attacking windmills that he imagines are giants. Stephen Harper and Peter MacKay have been tilting at make-believe enemies too, in the form of Russian planes in international airspace.

    Last Wednesday, Harper’s communications director sent an email to journalists informing them that a pair of Tupolev TU-95 bombers had been intercepted by Canadian CF-18s some 30 nautical miles (56 kilometres) from our Arctic coastline.

    “Thanks to the rapid response of the Canadian Forces,” Dimitri Soudas wrote, “at no time did the Russian aircraft enter sovereign Canadian airspace.”

    Soudas was right about Canada’s airspace, which extends just 12 nautical miles (22 kilometres) from shore. But he was wrong to suggest that the Russian bombers were headed there.

    His efforts at sensationalism were quickly short-circuited by a spokesman for the North American Aerospace Defense Command. “Both Russia and NORAD routinely exercise their capability to operate in the North,” Lt. Desmond James explained. “These exercises are important to both NORAD and Russia and are not cause for alarm.”

  16. Later, when the Prime Minister was asked about the matter, he suggested that the Russian planes had actually entered Canadian airspace. “This is a real concern to us,” he said. “I have expressed at various times the deep concern our government has with increasingly aggressive Russian actions around the globe and Russian intrusions into our airspace.”

    Then, as now, the inaccurate accusations were clearly not appreciated by the United States. NORAD commander Gene Renuart took the unusual step of publicly correcting the Canadian ministers. The four-star U.S. general told journalists: “The Russians have conducted themselves professionally; they have maintained compliance with the international rules of airspace sovereignty and have not entered the internal airspace of either of the countries.”

    The public slaps on the Canadian wrist are indicative of the importance placed on improved U.S.-Russian relations by the Obama administration.

  17. The cost of weapons
    Defence spending in a time of austerity
    The chronic problem of exorbitantly expensive weapons is becoming acute

    Aug 26th 2010 | Farnborough and washington, dc

    Robert Gates, America’s defence secretary, has ordered that production of the F-22 should end this year, capping the fleet at 187—a final cull for the Raptor, whose numbers were once supposed to reach about 750. In Europe orders for the Typhoon—a fighter made by Britain, Germany, Italy and Spain—will fall. And on both sides of the Atlantic the rising cost of the stealthy F-35 Joint Strike Fighter means its order book could shrink sharply.

    On August 9th Mr Gates announced a new set of money-saving measures: among them cutting at least 50 of the 900-plus generals and admirals; eliminating the joint-forces command, which promotes integration among the services; cutting funds for contractors; and reducing staff in Mr Gates’s own office. There are sound military reasons for this internal cost-cutting, especially the need to redirect money to the war in Afghanistan. But Mr Gates knows that after a decade of ever-rising defence spending, “the gusher has been turned off”; now his greatest fear is that defence spending will be cut to curb the budget deficit.

    His dread is already reality for many European colleagues. This week Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, Germany’s defence minister, said he favoured suspending conscription, with the option of resuming it later, in order to create a “smaller but better and more operational” army that would shrink by a third, to about 165,000. The move is part of Germany’s plan to cut €8.3 billion ($10.5 billion) from the defence budget by 2014. Even Britain, which has the largest European force in Afghanistan, is likely to cut defence spending by 10-20% over the next five years, following an overdue defence review in the autumn. Spain cut defence spending by 9% this year; Italy will chop by 10% next. Less drastically, France is freezing defence expenditure.

  18. A U.S. defence analyst says Canada’s new fleet of stealth jet fighters will cost almost double what the Conservative government is projecting.

    Winslow Wheeler, of the Centre for Defense Information in Washington, injected himself directly into the federal election by providing his estimate at a news conference on Parliament Hill.

    Wheeler says the unit cost of the F-35 jet will be about $148 million per airplane — an estimate that is in line with what the parliamentary budget officer has projected.

    The government says the unit cost will be up to $75 million per jet, and has mounted repeated public attacks on the budget officer’s estimate.

    The untendered jet purchase is a contentious issue during the federal election campaign. The Liberals want to scrap the deal, saying it’s not the way to go while the country is in deficit.

  19. In the debate Harper responded to criticism of the F-35 purchases by stating that all parties had agreed in the past to replacing the Canadian F-18s when they ended their service life. That may be true, but it isn’t a justification for choosing the American F-35 when, by all the numbers I can find, Eurofighter Typhoons would be far cheaper, and the cost more certain because the planes are already in production and service.

  20. The future of the Joint Strike Fighter
    Coming up short
    America should cut back orders for its late and expensive new fighter—and spend the cash on more useful kit

    IT SEEMED like a great idea at the time. When Lockheed Martin won the contract in 2001 to develop what became known as the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the aim was to produce a relatively cheap tactical aircraft with radar-beating stealth capability that would replace at least four other types in service. The biggest military programme in history would not only provide the backbone of America’s fighter fleet for the next 50 years but would also bring in sales from the United States’ closest allies. At least 3,000 F-35s would be ordered from the outset (over 2,400 by America alone). The result would be huge efficiency savings, initially from the scale of production and subsequently from the Southwest Airlines model of running just one basic type of aircraft across 90% of the fleet. Deliveries of operational aircraft were meant to begin in 2010.

    Things look less rosy a decade on. The F-35 is now unlikely to enter service before 2016; programme costs have risen to more than $380 billion; the average price of each plane has nearly doubled; and the Pentagon now thinks the F-35 will be a third more expensive to run than “legacy” aircraft, with lifetime costs of $1 trillion. Senator John McCain calls the project “a train wreck”. Even supporters, such as Robert Gates, the former defence secretary who was forced to restructure the programme last year, reckon numbers may have to be cut.

  21. The defence industry
    The last manned fighter
    It is the most expensive military project ever. It is plagued by delays and menaced by budget cuts. Will the F-35 survive?

    LEON PANETTA is under no illusions about what Barack Obama moved him from the CIA to the Pentagon to do. The wily Mr Panetta, who took over from Robert Gates as defence secretary at the beginning of the month, is everyone’s idea of a safe pair of hands. But his greatest claim to fame (other than presiding over the plan to kill Osama bin Laden) is as the director of the Office of Management and Budget who paved the way to the balanced budget of 1998. Mr Panetta has inherited from his predecessor the outlines of a plan to reduce military spending by $400 billion by 2023. But America’s fiscal crisis (and the lack of any political consensus about how tackle it) makes it almost certain that Mr Panetta will have to cut further and faster than Mr Gates would have wished.

    That could be bad news for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the most expensive military-industrial programme in history, and its lead contractor, Lockheed Martin. The plane is expected to come into service six years late (in 2016) and wildly over-budget. The Pentagon still plans to buy 2,443 F-35s over the next 25 years, at a cost of $382 billion. But in a parting shot, Mr Gates gave warning that although he did not think the F-35 faced cancellation, “the size of the buy” might have to be cut.

    After beating a Boeing design that was deemed technically riskier, Lockheed Martin signed the contract with the Department of Defence to develop the F-35 in 2001. It was an ambitious undertaking. The aim was to reap huge efficiency gains by replacing nearly all of America’s ageing tactical aircraft (the air force’s F-16s and A-10s; the navy’s A/F-18s and the marines’ AV8B jump jets) with three variants of one basic design. There would be a conventional take-off and landing (CTOL) version for the air force, a short take-off and vertical landing (STOVL) version for the marines and a beefier carrier version for the navy.

  22. The latest cost estimates from the Government Accountability Office (GAO), published in May to coincide with a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on the F-35 programme, were shocking. The average price of each plane in “then-year” dollars had risen from $69m in 2001 to $133m today. Adding in $56.4 billion of development costs, the price rises from $81m to $156m. The GAO report concluded that since 2007 development costs had risen by 26% and the timetable had slipped by five years. Mr Gates’s 2010 restructuring helped. But still, “after more than nine years in development and four in production, the JSF programme has not fully demonstrated that the aircraft design is stable, manufacturing processes are mature and the system is reliable”. Apart from the STOVL version’s problems, the biggest issue was integrating and testing the software that runs the aircraft’s electronics and sensors. At the hearing, Senator John McCain described it as “a train wreck” and accused Lockheed Martin of doing “an abysmal job”.

    What horrified the senators most was not the cost of buying F-35s but the cost of operating and supporting them: $1 trillion over the plane’s lifetime. Mr McCain described that estimate as “jaw-dropping”. The Pentagon guesses that it will cost a third more to run the F-35 than the aircraft it is replacing. Ashton Carter, the defence-acquisition chief, calls this “unacceptable and unaffordable”, and vows to trim it. A sceptical Mr McCain says he wants the Pentagon to examine alternatives to the F-35, should Mr Carter not succeed.

  23. The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program aimed to replace several aircraft from three major military services with a fifth-generation model capable of short-takeoff and vertical-landing while maintaining the capability of sustained supersonic flight — all while staying affordable. The project has finally gotten some test points validated, but after a decade in development and numerous cost and schedule overruns, it faces an uphill fight against budget reductions. Bloomberg has an interesting story about the program’s troubled past. Quoting: ‘Ten years and $66 billion later, the aircraft is still in development, five years behind schedule and 64 percent over cost estimates. The Obama administration may cancel some models and also cut the Pentagon’s orders. The plane, envisioned as the affordable stealth fighter for the U.S. and allies, has turned into a budget target. “I’d blame the program’s setbacks on the fact that we lived in a rich man’s world,” said Jacques Gansler, a former Pentagon chief weapons buyer in the Clinton administration and now a professor at the University of Maryland at College Park. “There has been less emphasis on cost over the past 10 years,” he said.

  24. Washington could scrap its F-35 jet purchase

    Bill Curry
    Ottawa – Globe and Mail Update
    Last updated Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2011 11:36AM EST

    The U.S. government is threatening to cancel its F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program unless Congress approves a credible deficit reduction plan, a move that would risk derailing Canada’s plans to purchase 65 of the next-generation stealth jets.

    U.S. Defence Secretary Leon Panetta includes the F-35 program in a detailed list of items that could be on the chopping block should a so-called “super committee” fail to deliver on a plan to find $1.2-trillion-in savings over the next 10 years.

  25. It’s time to ask a more basic question, the same one that Gates asked of the F-22: How many expensive, hugely complex, overdesigned, short-range fighter planes do we really need? The question becomes especially pertinent when the budget reveals that the Pentagon wants to spend $800 million to improve the 183 F-22s that already existed when Gates stopped the production line and $2.2 billion to buy 26 more advanced F/A-18 fighter-attack planes—an old model, but they keep improving it and building more.

    Obama’s spending cuts could mean trouble for Canada’s F-35 plans

    Defence Minister Peter MacKay has put some wind beneath the wings of speculation that Canada may cut its planned purchase of 65 stealth fighter jets.

    Asked point blank whether he could guarantee the number of the jets Canada would order is firm, MacKay didn’t directly answer.

    “We’re committed to buying aircraft that are going to give the Canadian Forces the chance that they need to perform mission success,” said MacKay.

    MacKay’s refusal to confirm Canada will purchase 65 of the radar-evading fighters is a change from September 2011 when he was firm on that number of planes.

    John Ivison: Political reality may force Tories to change broken record routine on F-35

    When it comes to the F-35 fighter jet purchase, the Harper government has become so well-versed in the art of denial, it can’t say yes.

    The Pentagon said Monday it will cancel 13 of the Lockheed Martin strike fighters to save $1.6-billion next year. It also proposed delaying the purchase of 179 F-35s beyond 2017 to save billions more.

    U.S. allies, many of whom have their own financial problems, have already downgraded their orders for the troubled fighter, which has been plagued with technical problems, delays and cost overruns.

    Britain has cut its planned order of 138 F-35s and will not decide until 2015 how many it will buy.

    Australia is reviewing its order and is buying 24 Boeing Super-Hornet fighters because of delays to the Lockheed jets.

    Turkey has halved its order; Italy is said to be considering cuts of around 30 planes; the Netherlands has put its plan to buy 85 F-35s on hold; and, Norway is waiting until this summer to decide whether to buy more planes to add to the four it purchased last year.

  26. John Ivison: Ottawa sets sights on armed drones

    The Harper Cabinet has discussed a potential solution to its F-35 fighter jet dilemma — the use of armed drones.

    Sources said the Department of National Defence is preparing to tender a contract for around six remotely piloted vehicles such as the MQ-9 Reaper, which the U.S. Defence Department estimates cost around $30-million each. A spokesman for DND dismissed the suggestion that armed drones could replace the F-35s, or augment a reduced number of aircraft, as speculation.

    The Canadian military has previously leased drones from Israel and the CU-170 Herons flew reconnaissance missions in Afghanistan. But the Herons were never armed and a move to fit munitions on to any unmanned aircraft would inevitably draw criticism from opposition parties. When the idea was raised two years ago, then New Democrat defence critic Jack Harris dismissed it as “morally repugnant” and “robot warfare.”

    Plan B may be a combination of cheaper jets and armed drones. U.S. Defence Department figures suggest the price of Boeing’s Super Hornet is $86-million this year and, in an open competition with other planes like the Eurofighter Typhoon, Saab Gripen and Dassault Rafale, that price could drop considerably. Maintenance and training costs would also be much lower than the untested F-35.

    But it is the addition of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) that will add to the speculation the government is re-considering the whole F-35 purchase.

  27. OTTAWA — Despite standing as one of the world’s strongest supporters of the troubled F-35 and fighting an election, in part, on obtaining the aircraft, Associate Defence Minister Julian Fantino admitted Tuesday the Conservative government hasn’t ruled out walking away from the stealth fighter program.

    Responding to NDP questions during an appearance before the Commons’ defence committee, Fantino said the government remains supportive of the F-35, but the government had not made “the determinate decision” on whether it will purchase the F-35, and that it had not “discounted backing out.”

    Fantino also confirmed the government doesn’t know how much each stealth fighter will cost.

    “We can’t give you that definitive number now,” he said.

    Fantino and Defence Minister Peter MacKay were appearing before the committee less than two weeks after Fantino hosted a closed-door meeting for representatives from other nations involved in the F-35 program at the Canadian Embassy in Washington.

  28. John Ivison: Defence officials misled Parliament on F-35 deal: AG report

    Canada’s new federal spending watchdog is set to deliver a scathing report on the F-35 fighter jet program early next month that will make distinctly unpleasant reading for the Conservative government.

    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, according to someone who has read it.

    Neither DND nor the Auditor-General’s office would be drawn on the contents of the report ahead of its release on April 3.

    But there are signs that the Harper government is already back-tracking on its previously unwavering support for the F-35s. At the Commons defence committee this week, Julian Fantino, the associate defence minister overseeing military procurement, said the government “has not as yet discounted the possibility of backing out of the program.” The F-35 purchase has been plagued with cost overruns and delays that have doubled the cost of each plane, according to some estimates.

  29. Defence Department never seriously considered buying anything other than the F-35: retired bureaucrat

    Department of National Defence officials charged with selecting Canada’s next fighter jet met with Lockheed Martin — maker of the F-35 — more times than with all other bidders combined before their billion-dollar decision to select it, access to information documents reveal.

    Between 2005 and 2011, officials from DND’s Next Generation Fighter Capability Office held a series of meetings with five major aircraft manufacturers “to evaluate and discuss potential replacements for the CF-18.”

    DND officials met with Lockheed Martin 21 times over the six-year period, the documents show, and it was the only company granted face time with key figures such as the chief of air staff and the parliamentary secretary for defence.

  30. Defence officials misled ministers in F-35 fighter jet whitewash: Auditor General

    OTTAWA — Department of National Defence officials twisted government rules, misled ministers and Parliament, and whitewashed cost overruns and delays in a determined effort to ensure Canada purchased the F-35 stealth fighter jet.

    Auditor-General Michael Ferguson’s scathing assessment, released today, puts the military’s own cost estimates for Canada’s involvement at $25 billion — instead of the publicly stated $16 billion — and questions assertions that Canadian industry stands to benefit from $12 billion in contracts.

    The Auditor-General’s report also says the F-35 was “clearly the fighter jet of choice” as early as 2006, and that officials intentionally played up the F-35’s stealth capabilities to sidestep established purchasing guidelines.

    “National Defence did not exercise the diligence that would be expected in managing a $25-billion commitment,” Ferguson said. “It is important that a purchase of this size be managed rigorously and transparently.”

    The report is expected to usher in significant changes to the handling of the fighter program going forward, with the federal government reportedly preparing to promise more transparency and oversight into the multi-billion-dollar project.

  31. Thomas Mulcair’s question in the House of Commons got to the nub of the F-35 debacle. “Can the Prime Minister tell us who in his Cabinet is responsible for the F-35s?” asked the NDP leader.

    The answer is still not clear. Peter MacKay, the Defence Minister, Rona Ambrose, the Public Works Minister, and Julian Fantino, the Associate Minister of Defence, were all on their feet during Question Period Wednesday, as if to highlight their overlapping authority, or perhaps culpability.

    Each parroted the line that the government accepts the Auditor-General’s report and is working to improve the process by setting up a new secretariat inside Public Works to oversee the F-35 project.

  32. Den Tandt: Heads should roll for F-35 fiasco

    OTTAWA — Here’s what a sober-minded, fiscally responsible and cautious prime minister would do, given the outrageous chronicle of incompetence, stupidity and duplicity revealed by Auditor General Michael Ferguson’s report on the F-35 fighter program: He would demand and receive the resignation of Chief of the Defence Staff Walter Natynczyk. He would demand and receive the resignation of Defence Minister Peter MacKay.

    Such a prime minister would remove and replace these two men now, regardless of their past contributions and regardless of whether they were directly responsible for the outrages outlined in Ferguson’s report, because it happened on their watch. Such a prime minister would then lick his wounds and move on, the caucus and senior civil service chastened but secure in the knowledge that really big mistakes have consequences.

    That Prime Minister Stephen Harper does not appear inclined to do this — that the government apparently intends to snort and bluff and bluster its way through this latest stink bomb, just as it has done with such resounding success on the robocalls file — is astonishing. Minority Harper, the man who ditched former minister Helena Guergis on a rumour, would not have done so. Minority Harper would have thrown several of his associates under an eighteen-wheeler Tuesday, without so much as a backward glance.

  33. MacKay responsible for F-35 mess

    Auditor General Michael Ferguson has been very careful not to assign any specific blame for the mess that’s been made of the F-35s procurement. The citizens of Canada need not be so polite.

    It is the Department of National Defence that failed, in the auditor general’s estimation, to exercise due diligence and properly inform Parliament. But it is the minister’s duty to make sure that department does its job, especially when billions are on the line. It’s the minister’s job to ask questions, to be sure of his ground before he stands up and invokes the protection of Canadian troops in the service of his opinion.

    It is the minister who is, oh, what’s that old-fashioned word … responsible.

    Peter MacKay either didn’t know what his department was up to, or he was complicit in keeping the whole truth from his fellow parliamentarians and from Canadians.

    To be fair to MacKay, there are others who ought to be ashamed of themselves. The auditor general’s latest report says the year 2006 “represented the most critical period concerning Canada’s participation in the (Joint Strike Fighter) Program and future acquisition of the F-35.” Gordon O’Connor was the defence minister at that time. That’s when Canada accepted the procurement regime and signed memorandums of understanding with manufacturers Lockheed Martin, Pratt & Whitney and GE Rolls-Royce.

    The next year, MacKay took over the portfolio, and he has been a staunch defender of the F-35 process since. In 2010, the government announced it was buying the F-35. It was after this announcement that the defence department went through the required process to justify its decision to buy the planes without holding a competition.

  34. F-35 purchase had 2 sets of books, Page says

    Canada’s budget watchdog says it appears the Conservative government kept two sets of books when it came to the costs of replacing Canada’s aging fleet of CF-18s with 65 F-35 stealth fighter jets.

    In an interview airing on CBC Radio’s The House on Saturday, parliamentary budget officer Kevin Page spoke out on the issue for the first time since Auditor General Michael Ferguson delivered a report earlier this month lambasting the government and Department of National Defence officials over estimated costs of replacing Canada’s fighter jets.

    Page told host Evan Solomon what bothered his office was that one set of books was available inside DND, while another “for communication purposes” was presented publicly, in which he said the government was “low-balling” the numbers.

    “You do get the sense there were different books being kept,” he told Solomon.

    In his report, Ferguson found that the costs of acquiring 65 F-35s over 20 years was closer to $25-billion, and not the $15-billion the public had been told.

  35. So the full cost of the F-35s will be $25-billion?

    No. This figure is for a 20-year period. The F-35 is actually expected to be in use for more than 30 years. The Defence Department has cost estimates for 36 years of use, which it has not made public. In addition, the Department of National Defence’s $25-billion cost estimate does not include a number of Canada-specific modifications that will be required or the 14 replacement aircraft the military believes will be required.

    How much will the F-35s actually cost Canadians?

    Unknown. Complicating matters is the fact that nobody knows how much one F-35 will cost as the price continues to increase. Until then, everything is a question mark.

    So did the government mislead Canadians?

    Depends on who you ask. Opposition parties and the parliamentary budget officer were demanding a full accounting of the F-35 in the weeks before the last federal election. In response, the Defence Department floated the $14.7-billion figure to Parliament and Canadians instead of the $25-billion estimate. The Conservative government knew of the $25-billion estimate but did not correct the record.

    Since Auditor-General Michael Ferguson revealed earlier this month that members of the executive — namely ministers and cabinet — knew of the $25-billion estimate, the Conservatives have argued that they did nothing wrong as including operating expenses is not normal procedure.

    But it was the government’s failure to produce the full costs of the F-35 in March 2011 that led to the contempt of Parliament ruling that prompted the last election. In addition, former auditor-general Sheila Fraser demanded the Defence Department produce “full life-cycle costs” for all future projects after slamming it for its handling of a military helicopter purchase in October 2010.

    The government has since promised to provide full life-cycle costs in the future.

  36. Still uncertain whether the F-35 is a good idea?

    Good news: Foreign Policy magazine may solve the dilemma for you. The Washington-based magazine demonstrates that Canadian opponents aren’t alone in thinking the “fifth generation fighter” (which sounds significant but really only means there were four earlier ones, kind of like owning a “fifth generation Oldsmobile”) is a disaster waiting to happen. In “The Jet that Ate the Pentagon” it pretty much dismembers the argument for the plane, largely on the basis that it will be insanely expensive (even more insanely than the costs known at present, and which the federal government sought valiantly to disguise by letting Defence Minister Peter MacKay be in charge). And besides the expense, it says, the planes don’t work very well, and aren’t likely to.

  37. ONE of the main ways Stephen Harper, Canada’s Conservative prime minister, has sought to distinguish himself from his Liberal predecessors is by building a modern army ready to fight, rather than merely for peacekeeping. In the 2011 election campaign he promised to fulfil a C$15 billion ($15 billion) contract for 65 F-35 fighter aircraft despite a tough economy. In October he announced Canada’s biggest-ever arms order, for naval and coastguard ships costing C$35 billion. The structure of the procurement was widely praised for avoiding political interference.

    But the glow has not lasted. In April Canada’s auditor-general found that the government had misled Parliament, deliberately underestimating the price of the F-35s by almost C$10 billion, by excluding replacement aircraft, upgrades and training and maintenance costs. On July 4th Mr Harper named a new junior minister at the defence department as the deal’s spokesman. But procurement remains awkwardly split between the defence and public-works ministries. One result was that last year the military forfeited C$600m allocated for equipment but not spent.

  38. F-35s scrapped by Conservatives as audit puts true cost past $30B

    The F-35 jet fighter purchase, the most persistent thorn in the Harper government’s side and the subject of a devastating auditor-general’s report last spring, is dead.

    Faced with the imminent release of an audit by accountants KPMG that will push the total projected life-cycle costs of the aircraft above $30-billion, the operations committee of cabinet decided Tuesday evening to scrap the controversial sole-source program and go back to the drawing board, a source familiar with the decision said.

    This occurred after Chief of the Defence Staff Thomas Lawson, while en route overseas, was called back urgently to appear before the committee, the source said.

  39. John Ivison: There are no cheap alternatives to the F-35s for Canada

    Canadians likely reacted with either confusion or anger when they saw the $46-billion price tag for the F-35 fighter jets.

    The confused, among whom I count myself, asked: How can we possibly calculate operating costs 42 years into the future when we can’t accurately predict the price of gas next week? This is an imperfect science — if, for example, inflation exceeds the rate anticipated, billions would be added to the $46-billion price-tag.

    The angry took the numbers at face value and demanded we go with a cheaper option.

    The problem is, though, that a cheaper replacement for the CF-18s may be hard to find.

    At the same time as the Canadian government was pushing its reset button on the F-35s, the Australian government revealed it is thinking about buying 24 more Boeing Super Hornets fighters, to add to the 24 it bought recently. The first two dozen were seen as a bridge between the Royal Australian Air Force’s existing fighters and the delayed arrival of the F-35s. But the RAAF is so happy with the Super Hornet, defence minister Stephen Smith says the plane is no longer a transitional aircraft. Australia intended to buy 100 F-35s and sell back the Super Hornets to the U.S. government. Now Mr. Smith says the plane, with its Growler electronics system that jams land-based radar, will play a central role in Australia’s air defences for the forseeable future.

  40. Newest Stealth Fighter’s Ground Attack Sensors 10 Years Behind Older Jets

    America’s $400 billion, top-of-the-line aircraft can’t see the battlefield all that well. Which means it’s actually worse than its predecessors at fighting today’s wars. …. The problem stems from the fact that the technology found on one of the stealth fighter’s primary air-to-ground sensors—its nose-mounted Electro-Optical Targeting System (EOTS)—is more than a decade old and hopelessly obsolete. The EOTS, which is similar in concept to a large high-resolution infrared and television camera, is used to visually identify and monitor ground targets. The system can also mark targets for laser-guided bombs. … Older jets currently in service with the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps can carry the latest generation of sensor pods, which are far more advanced than the EOTS sensor carried by the F-35. … The end result is that when the F-35 finally becomes operational after its myriad technical problems, cost overruns, and massive delays, in some ways it will be less capable than current fighters in the Pentagon’s inventory.

  41. Isn’t a cheaper not to the $46 billion price tag for the F-35 fighters, not to have fighters –

    or to purchase the used planes of countries that are getting rid of their fleet for newer models.

    Where is the threat to Canada that these new fighters are required to protect from?

  42. It seems clear that these planes aren’t really intended to protect Canada from threats directly (they would be useless against Russia, if they decided to attack).

    Rather, this capability is meant to allow Canada to continue to participate in foreign air wars, like we are doing now in Iraq.

    Even as weapon technologies go, fighter aircraft are especially expensive, and the F-35 seems to have a lot of problems.

  43. The Pentagon’s $1.5 Trillion Mistake

    The F-35 fighter jet was supposed to do a bit of everything, as James Fallows explains in “The Tragedy of the American Military”. Instead, the aircraft can barely do anything: it has trouble flying at night, its engines have exploded during takeoff, and early models suffered structural cracks. There’s no end in sight, either. The all-in costs of this airplane are estimated to be as much as $1.5 trillion. (That’s approximately the same price as the entire Iraq War.) In this video, Fallows explains how such a disastrous project came to be—and why it can’t be stopped.

  44. F-35 – Runaway Fighter – the fifth estate

    It could yet prove to be the most expensive defense purchase in Canadian history — $25 billion and counting. The military promises it’s the best fighter jet available, but some critics are saying it’s a turkey hatched from a bad idea: a do-it-all plane that might not do anything well-at-all.

    Was Canada pressured to buy the F-35 fighter jet? Will the jet ever deliver on its promise of being the top gun in the sky? Did the government cover up the true costs to win an election? With secret documents and exclusive interviews with Air Force insiders, the fifth estate’s Gillian Findlay pieces together the troubling story of the F-35. From Lockheed Martin’s first prototype and bungled development process to Canada’s decision to buy the fighter jet without an open competition, “Runaway Fighter” raises serious questions about a procurement system seemingly run amok and a jetfighter critics say will never live up to its spin.

  45. Another way to see the F-35 is as a quid pro quo with the Americans. Continue to feed the US-corporate-military machine, continue to enjoy extensive protection from US forces.

    You don’t get that from France with the Rafale, much less Sweden with the Grippen.

  46. Fortunately, a reasonable and affordable solution is available: the F/A-18 Super Hornet. The U.S. Navy is buying Super Hornets to operate in conjunction with its F-35s, because of the Super Hornet’s ability to dogfight, as well as the over-water safety provided by its twin engines.

    The Super Hornet is the latest version of the CF-18. For this reason, Canada would only need to acquire 30 to 40 as a fleet extension. The Super Hornets could then be used for day-to-day operations, while the well-worn CF-18s are reserved for situations requiring a larger number of planes.

    This approach would result in substantial savings on the acquisition, operating and sustainment costs associated with an entirely new full fleet of fighter jets. It would also ensure that new planes arrive before the CF-18s become un-flyable.

    From a long-term cost perspective, a fleet extension of Super Hornets would provide a capability “bridge’ of up to two decades, giving future governments time to ascertain whether a new full fleet of fighter jets is needed, or whether the development of autonomous dogfight-capable drones will have rendered such planes obsolete.

  47. Election Will Determine F-35’s Future in Canada

    Two of the three main political parties in the race — the Liberal Party and the New Democratic Party (NDP) — say that if elected, they will hold a competition, inviting international aerospace companies to bid on replacing the existing CF-18 fighter fleet.

    The Conservative Party, which has been in power for the last nine years and had originally committed Canada to the purchase of the F-35, hasn’t yet outlined how it would proceed. In December 2012, the Conservative government, under continuing fire over questions about the increasing cost of the F-35 program, announced it would put the procurement on hold. That acquisition process has yet to restart.

  48. Maslow’s Hammer: How will the F-35 affect foreign policy?

    In attempting to justify the F-35, some have hinted at breakthrough technologies onboard the aircraft that are classified and enormously impressive. While all F-35 claims can be taken with a grain of salt (remember the Lockheed Martin boast of superior kinematics to any 4th generation fighter?) it seems likely that one of these technologies is electromagnetic-pulse based.

    This development has entered the White world in several recent projects, notably the Boeing Counter-electronics High-powered Advanced Missile Project (CHAMP). These weapons use microwave radiation to fry enemy electronics, crippling computers or even knocking the power system out for an entire building (it should also be noted that missiles contain electronics). Other possible candidates for ‘technology-X’ on the F-35 include extremely aggressive electronic attack modes to disable enemy radars, including computer virus insertion. If this were the case, it would combine with the F-35’s low-observability to produce an ‘asymmetric fighter’ capable of Black ops. As with unmanned aircraft, this could led to small scale military operations without the bother of international accountability. The F-35, which will inevitably serve in smaller numbers than now anticipated, will not be well suited to 21st century offensive warfare’s central mission of close air support. Though it may well excel in the other important modern role: intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR). The F-35 to was conceived excel in Desert Storm-style warfare, it was to be used in blitzkrieg (later, and with added emphasis on the psychological, known by the revealingly repulsive term ‘shock and awe’) operations.

    Israel is expected to receive its first F-35s in 2016. The Israeli air force has a long history of surprise air attacks on enemies or potential enemies outside of declared wars— at the risk of losing aircraft, and thus deniability and national prestige. If the F-35 performs as advertised (to use a cliche that has long attached itself to the programme) then it would by the ideal aircraft for Israel to threaten or attack Iran.

  49. Justin Trudeau vows to scrap F-35 program

    The Liberal Party will scrap the Conservatives’ troubled F-35 fighter jet program should they assume government, Leader Justin Trudeau announced in Halifax today.

    In its place, the Liberals said they would launch an “open and transparent competition” to buy more affordable planes to replace Canada’s aging CF-18 jets. Trudeau said the money saved by scrapping the F-35 procurement would go primarily to increasing spending on the Royal Canadian Navy.

    The primary mission of our fighter aircraft, Trudeau said, is the defence of North America.

  50. Canada does not need fighter jets, period

    C.R. (Buzz) Nixon was deputy minister of National Defence from 1975 to 1983.

    It appears Ottawa has put on hold its decision to purchase next-generation F-35 fighter jets. It should go one step further and junk the purchase of any new fighters, period – saving $45-billion in the process. Canada does not need fighter aircraft.

    New Canadian fighters would almost certainly never be involved in serious strike or aerial combat operations and are not required to protect Canada’s populace or sovereignty. They would only be of symbolic assistance (such as Canada currently is doing in Eastern Europe via NATO) and could provide support of ground forces in low-combat hostilities, which could be had more effectively and at lower cost by other types of aircraft.

    The only credible aerial threat to Canadian territory, sovereignty and populace is a copy-cat “9/11” attack – a danger that essentially cannot be defeated by fighter aircraft.

    Natural disasters at home or abroad would not require fighters, but could require helicopters, transport aircraft and other forms of military assistance.

    Canada could be involved in providing humanitarian relief, peace-keeping or to help maintain order and protection of people and property – a type of operation would not likely involve aerial combat, but could require aerial support to ground operations. This type of operation could be provided more effectively and at lower cost than by using fighters.

  51. I find the argument that Canada should not have fighter jets pretty convincing. It’s hard to see where they would be useful, and easy to see how the money required could be better used for other defence-related or non-defence-related purposes.

  52. Advocates make three arguments that, upon closer examination, are most persuasive for keeping the F-35: acquisition history, allies, and options.

    What is most troubling is that if critics had their way, there would be no F-14 (no Maverick, no Goose, no Cougar, and no Charlie Blackwood), no F-15 (rated one of history’s top fighters by an F-35 critic, and no F-16 (which critics also sought to kill). Had critics been successful in ending these programs, for many of the same reasons as current critics are seeking to kill the F-35 program, the United States would still be flying the same F-4s it flew during Vietnam.

    Related to the discussion of jamming is the discussion of stealth, a major selling point for the JSF. If reports of Chinese and Russian radar developments are accurate and they are able to develop advanced radars that apply computing power to better utilize low-frequency L, UHF, and VHF wavelengths, the stealth properties of the F-35 no longer hide the aircraft from an adversary. Unlike the B-2, which does not have vertical stabilizers, the JSF may offer a significant radar return for new Russian and Chinese radars.

    With radars far less expensive to field than fifth generation fighters, there is reason to believe that, once operational, Chinese or Russian-made low-frequency radars, specifically designed to detect the JSF, will proliferate among America’s adversaries. This too could greatly undermine the value of the F-35.

  53. But some think that the helmet’s “political engineering” is as much a marvel as its electronics, says Dan Grazier of the Project on Government Oversight, a watchdog in Washington, DC. The aircraft’s research was spread around more than 300 congressional districts whose legislators were keen to support contractors’ proposals for fancy and expensive new features, he maintains. The helmet is now so complex, he reckons, that it has become the F-35’s weak link. Intricate kit breaks—and when it does, a pilot cannot simply borrow another’s helmet to fly. This is because each HMDS is calibrated to an individual flyer: for example, the alignment of their pupils for eye-tracking, which is a two-day laboratory job that only Rockwell Collins is authorised to conduct.

    But criticism persists. A report written by a US Air Force F-35 pilot following mock dogfights last year said that the helmet was so large it restricted the ability of pilots to turn their head to see enemy aircraft. Tilting back to look up turns the helmet’s avionics cable “into a spring, further increasing neck tension”. Some flight manoeuvres momentarily resulted in the helmet being pinned against the canopy, obstructing the display and inhibiting weapon-firing. One airman says few of his colleagues like the F-35 helmet.

    At 2.4kg, there is also concern about the helmet causing a whiplash injury if a pilot is forced to eject. Test ejections with dummies by the Pentagon’s Operational Test and Evaluation unit found this could cause possible fatal neck injuries for some pilots. Designers are working to lower those risks. To reduce loading on the neck, Rockwell Collins will lighten the helmet by a quarter of a kilo, says Karl Shepherd, the firm’s marketing boss. Mr Flynn, Lockheed’s test pilot, says that more than 300 pilots have been trained to use the HMDS and that all “have become believers” in the helmet.

    A lesson lies in all this, some say. Developing exquisite technologies is not always the best means to an end. Had the F-35’s cockpit not been positioned lower than those of other fighter jets to reduce its radar signature, pilots would be able to see more with their own eyes. There are old-school ways around that: one F-35 pilot says he sometimes banks the aircraft over when he wants to see what is going on below. In future years, an entirely different solution may emerge. Given the pace of drone technology, the aircraft that replaces the F-35 may not have a pilot at all.

  54. You’ll note that in the above paragraph on military procurement, there was very little emphasis on actually successfully procuring equipment for the Armed Forces. Ottawa is much too sophisticated for that kind of concern. The real action is in the jobs, the industrial benefits, the gigantic novelty cheques, the ribbon cuttings, the question period talking points and the partisan mailers crowing about all the money flowing to Canadian firms. That’s what military procurement is really for, at least in the eyes of Canadian officials. That’s why our national shipbuilding strategy was to first build out a shipbuilding industry and then build some ships, almost as an afterthought, when we could have bought them faster and almost certainly cheaper from an ally.

  55. The Fighter Jet That’s Too Pricey to Fail
    The F-35 is a boondoggle. Yet we’re stuck with it.

    Conceived in the 1990s as a sort of Swiss army knife of fighter jets, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter was meant to come as a conventional fighter for the Air Force, as a carrier-based fighter for the Navy and as a vertical-landing version for the Marines. The problems, and there were lots of them, set in early. All three versions of the plane ended up at least three years behind schedule, and sharing less than a quarter of their parts instead of the anticipated 70 percent. Many of those already built need updates; hundreds of defects are still being corrected; the jet is so expensive to maintain that it costs around $36,000 per hour to fly (compared to $22,000 for an older F-16). At the current rate, it will cost taxpayers more than $1 trillion over its 60-year life span.

    Trying to replace four different airframes for three different service branches with one fighter was an obvious mistake. Another was attempting to develop too many technologies at the same time, which resulted in long delays when progress on one front disrupted planning for others. Above all, the time for developing a fighter cannot be the decades it took to bring out the F-35. There will always be new battlefields to contend with and new technical problems to solve; all sorts of new concepts are already on the horizon, including A.I.-operated drones. A shorter schedule and smaller budget would allow for quicker innovation, and would prevent projects from becoming too pricey to fail.

  56. The request for proposals allocated substantial points for economic benefit. The way the Joint Strike Fighter program is structured, there is only so much the F-35 proposal can deliver in terms of benefits and offsets to Canadian industry because the aircraft’s contracts compete and are spread out across the consortium.

    Saab, on the other hand, is pitching that Canadian Gripens be assembled in Canada (at IMP Aerospace & Defence in Nova Scotia) and more importantly that all of the intellectual property rights for sustainment and operations become the property of the federal government. That by itself is a significant concession that would give Canada sovereign control over its fighter jet fleet in a manner that has not been seen in decades.

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