Déjà vu! The F-35 has become an election issue with the leader of the Opposition vowing to cancel the program if elected, as did Mr. Chretien promise and cancel the EH-101 New Shipboard Aircraft in 1993.
The consequences of that action include his government paying a contract cancellation fee of more than $500 million, and further delays in replacing the Sea King helicopter that continue to this day. The threat to cancel the F-35 for our air force is based on false arguments.
Here are the facts.
Manned fighters are and will continue to be essential to our ability to exercise control and sovereignty over our airspace in Canada, and to conduct operations abroad.
The Canadian Forces produced a Statement of Requirements (SOR) for an aircraft to replace the CF-18 at the end of its service life in the 2020 timeframe. It was approved by the government. Expert analysis of the mandatory requirements concluded that a fifth-generation aircraft was needed to satisfy them. Advanced fourth-generation aircraft cannot be upgraded to meet those requirements.
Unmanned aerial vehicles cannot now or in the foreseeable future carry out all the complex and demanding tasks that can be assigned to manned fighter aircraft.
The F-35 is the only aircraft that can meet the SOR as written. That has been acknowledged by the parliamentary budget officer (PBO). Those requirements include stealth capabilities, secure communications, automatic sharing of data and sensor information between friendly aircraft, capability for the pilot to visually operate the aircraft in no-light conditions, and capability for the pilot to effectively detect and engage small targets at tactically significant ranges.
When some or all of the nine countries that are partners in the program operate F-35s together their collective effectiveness will be enhanced because of commonality in training, equipment and support.
The F-35 won the competition for a fifth-generation strike fighter in the US in 2001. While that competition was not the usual unilateral Canadian competition, it nevertheless was a competition in which nine nations had an interest.
Canada monitored that competition, and under a Liberal government Canada became a partner in the Joint Strike Fighter Program in 1997. Canada has now contributed just over $200M to the program.
Cost numbers have been wildly thrown about.
The basic facts are that $9 billion has been identified in the long-term budget for acquisition of 65 F-35s beginning in 2017. That amount includes $6B for the aircraft and $3B associated costs (spares, infrastructure, and weapons). Maintenance costs over 20 years are estimated at $5.7B for a total program cost of $14.7B.
DND has concluded the F-35 is affordable based on their cost analysis and the identification of funds in the long term re-equipment program for the Forces. If and when any of the variables change they will address the new situation and make adjustments as necessary to maintain the F-35 program’s affordability.
To treat this vital program as a throwaway political poker chip in the current election campaign using rhetoric, slogans, and ludicrous comparisons is irresponsible and unworthy. If opposition parties promised a review of the F-35 program if elected that would be reasonable and understandable, but to smugly threaten an immediate cancellation of the program is beyond reason.
The F-35 program is costly but necessary for our country’s future security.