Friday, July 30, 2010

The Ruskies are coming! Conservative talking-points for stupid people

It's amusing to see the Conservatives attempt to spin the routine intercept of ageing Russian turbo-prop bombers by our young-by-comparison CF-18 jets as proof we need to drop $16 billion without tender or a needs analysis to buy F-35s. Because in fact, when you think about it, these intercepts prove a number of cheaper alternatives may do the job just fine.

The intercepts do show we need a fighter capability. That's not really in doubt though, at least not by anyone likely to be governing any time soon, so let's accept that as a given and move on.

First of all, the fact is these intercepts are routine, and have been ably met by our boys in blue with our current CF-18 force. If the Russians were flying circles around us, flying over Glace Bay with impunity while we were able to do nothing but shake our fists at them, maybe the Conservatives would have a point that we need super-expensive stealth fighters to stop them.

But no, the CF-18 did just fine, thanks. Now, we are going to have to replace them. They're approaching end-of-life in the medium term. The incidents the Conservatives trumpet though illustrate that, having met the threat with current-generation technology, any number of next-generation alternatives cheaper to the F-35 could easily meet this same threat: the revamped F/A-18 SuperHornet, for example (The US Navy is buying them). Or the Eurofighter Typhoon (being bought by the Royal Air Force). Or even the next generation of the F-15, the Silent Eagle, a plane purpose-built for this sort of air superiority mission. All would do this mission, and all would do it cheaper than the F-35.

Contrary to the Conservative talking-points, MacKay and company have actually underscored the Liberal position by creating this drama: the F-35 may well be over-qualified to meet our primary threats, we should do a proper competitive analysis to ensure we're finding the right plane to do the job, and we should put it to public tender to make sure we're getting it at the right price.

And by the by, something that hasn't gotten enough notice: the government hasn't signed a contract yet to buy the F-35s, and won't for a few years. Seems that dog and pony show a few weeks ago was just about getting MacKay's picture taken in a fake jet, and doing some PR for the Pentagon. Which means, the next government can put this thing to a proper tendering process without any penalties or problems.

P.S. I found this very amusing, in a death of my profession sort of way:
The TU-95 bomber, known as the Bear, is capable of carrying nuclear weapons and may have been loaded with warheads on this trip. One military analyst tells QMI Agency the Russians have been known to fly with nukes on board just to flex their muscle and prove to the world they are still a powerful country.
Yes, nukes! They might have had nukes! Build a bombshelter in the basement of your condo, Chad and Buffy! We have no information that they did have nukes, but we won't let that stop us from speculating baselessly, because that's what good journalism is all about.

Also, the Bear might have had a cargo of angry, rabid bears. Or cute, cuddly kittens. Or, NUKES! We. Just. Don't. Know.

Fox News North. We speculate, you decide.

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ottlib said...

Interesting note about the F-35. Its range is less than the F-18 so it would need to let these Russian bombers fly closer to Canadian air space before the intercept.

Indeed, they would be able to fly so close that if they wanted to they would be able to release cruise missile before the F-35s reached them.

I agree with you Jeff. The F-18s are due for replacement. We do not need to see another Sea King fiasco. However, there are other aircraft out their that would meet our defence needs much better than the F-35.

tono-bungay said...

What we need is start making CF-100s again.

Jeff said...

The Canuck? Nah, let's revive the CF-105 project. It's perfect for Arctic interception...

Jennifer Smith said...

CF-105 lol :)

John Ralston Saul has an interesting take on the international arms business. He points out that ever since the 60s, armaments and equipment have become so complex and so expensive to develop that the only way to make them even remotely affordable is through economies of scale. Which means that the principal buyer (usually the U.S.) must make lots and lots of whatever it is - missiles, jets, tanks, etc. - and then sell most of them to other countries, regardless of whether they need them or even if it's wise to sell to them.

And then they get used against them. And then they move on to the next new shiny thing.

The F-35 does seem to prove his point. The U.S. needs to unload the damned things, so they're desperately trying to get at least a couple of NATO countries to pick them up so they can convince the rest that they will be left behind if they don't buy in ("Call now! Limited time offer! Only 23,875 in stock!")

In some ways, the F-35 is our generation's Bomarc.

Fred from BC said...

Wow. So much misinformation, so little time...;)

The F-35 can carry 18,500 pounds of fuel internally (along with all weaponry) which gives it more range than the F-22 (the world's premier warplane at the moment). It can easily extend that range by the usual method (external drop tanks) with only a small loss of stealth (negated by simply dropping the external tanks before reaching detection range). As warplanes go, this one is fantastic...and will fill multiple roles from air superiority, interception, ground attack, carrier operations, etc.

It's the perfect choice for Canada (Jean Chretien thought so, too) and only people who are trying to make this into a political issue think otherwise. We've invested millions of dollars in the development of this aircraft and stand to gain hundreds of millions more in local manufacturing (read: Canadian jobs) while ending up with the best possible aircraft for our uses. So what can be wrong with that?