Tuesday, October 19, 2010

All of a sudden we all need the same jet?

There are so many ridiculous talking points coming from the Conservative government and from the defence analysts and pundits trying to justify the $16 billion F-35 fighter purchase, it's hard to know where to start when it comes to knocking them down.

I'd like to start with one of the oft-repeated ones though: all our NATO friends are buying F-35s, so it's vitally important that we buy the same jet as them so we can play together and be "inter-operable" because, if we have a different jet, we won't be able to work together and madness will ensue.

Really, since when? This strident necessity for everyone having the same jet and not being able to work together otherwise must have suddenly popped up recently, because it has never been the case in the past.

As an Air Force brat I lived on Canadian fighter base in Germany in the late 1980s, and the dizzying array of different NATO ally aircraft that would pass through was impressive. Canadian CF-18s. American F-15s, F-16s and F-111s. German F-4s and Tornados. British Tornados and Jaguars. And the odd French Mirage and Swedish Viggen on the non-NATO front.

All these many different fighter types (we're not even including Navy aircraft here) and yet, still, they all managed to work together and conduct regular successful joint exercises. Canada deployed CF-18s to the first Gulf War and to Bosnia, operating jointly with different allied aircraft.

Look at all the types of aircraft operated concurrently by just the United States Air Force over the years -- somehow, they managed to work with themselves and be all interoperable and what not.

Would there be some benefits from operating the same type as the Americans and the British? When it comes to joint deployments, sure. We could borrow spare parts and share munitions. But such joint deployments would be rare. The more important element of interoperability is around internal systems to let pilots cooperate on the battlefield, which IS independent of fighter type.

The fact is, interoperability has never been dependent on having the same fighter type. And, more importantly, it should be a lesser consideration to what should be the primary mission for our next-generation fighter: domestic interception and sovereignty patrol. With that mission in mind, there are a number of possible cheaper alternatives to the F-35 that we could consider. Alternatives, in fact, that will also be operated by some of our allies.

This whole "we need the same aircraft" argument really has nothing to do with interoperability. And interoperability wasn't the primary reason the F-35 consortium came together. The argument of putting everyone on the same type was really economic: the U.S. and British each want to replace several types with one multi-purpose craft. Operating one type saves on training and maintenance, and buy buying in bulk they can get a better deal.

There are other arguments to be made for the F-35, but the interoperability talking point is a weak one, and it's not worth paying a cost premium for.

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CanadianSense said...

A few questions as you seem to appear to have some expertise in military procurement.

Can you list the other "comparable" jet(s) available in 2016-2017 before our CF18 fleet become grounded or costs to fly match the Sea King?

We had Chretien-Donolo do this with the Sea king "cadillac" replacements. The $ 500 million penalty and no replacements to date.

The Liberals have a very poor record when it comes to our military. Why do you have so little regard for the industry concern over investment-jobs and experts in the government/military that have supported the decision to purchase the F35?

The military refer the Chretien-Martin as the decade of darkness.

Is your concern for taxpayers money, cost over runs or winning the next campaign worth the risk?

Anonymous said...

Another problem with "everyone needs the same fighter" argument is that everyone would share the same vulnerabilities and weaknesses. Yes they would share the same strengths as well, but we're kidding ourselves if we expect these things to be invulnerable. Last thing we'd want is an F35 killer and look, that's all everyone is using!

Aren't aircraft specialized for different roles? Or am I missing the whole point of the vaunted US Military having multiple types of aircraft in its inventory?

The argument should be solely based on what is the best aircraft for our needs and circumstances. Keeping our allies happy really should not play into it at all.

Ted Betts said...

The UK is changing and reducing it's F-35 purchase.

"In any event that pool of international JSF sales, from which our government hopes the Canadian aviation industry will make out like bandits, is starting to shrink."

Jeff said...

CS, the list of other possible fighters is well known. There's the SuperHornet, which the US Navy is currently buying and will operate for some time to come. There's the Eurofighter Typhoon, being purchased and operated by the British and other European allies. There's also the SilentEagle, an fighter tailor-made for an air superiority mission. I think the Sweedes have a plane too.

The rest of your points I've debated in other posts.


This whole "multi-purpose fighter" is somewhat of a new experiment being made with the F-35. In the past, larger air forces would indeed have many role-specific types. The US sees the F35 replacing the F-15, F-16, F-18, and I think a few others too.

I think the problem we could see with the F-35 is that in trying to do everything, it will end up doing everything ok but nothing well. We'll see.

WhigWag said...


1) The F-22A Raptor would be a much better fighter plane (the F35 is more of a bomber) - so ask our "ally" why they won't sell it to us & insist on selling us this lemon)
www.ausairpower.net/APA-NOTAM-191010-1.html ;

2) there's no contract signed, yet, so there will be no penalty if we don't buy the F-35's;

3) the Cndn air industry already can compete for this plane's supply contracts with the existing development contracts we're in, but have no guarantees even with the Cons. overly expensive (probably by at least $2-B) deal, so why are you Cons. such bad negotiators with taxpayer money & such liars & bullies to cover up your incompetence?

CanadianSense said...

Why do you think the experts in the military did not recommend those planes as they already exist and cheaper?

Do you think the current government expert (procurer) and military staff are acting irresponsibly by recommending the F35 without demanding an additional bidding process in 2010?

The US has many Aircraft including the F22. Comparing our single fighter replacement to the US is unfair as our budget flexibility to have 2-3 aircraft are not comparable.

A decision amortized over the next twenty years.

Sixty-five fighter purchase from my understanding is for all purpose 5th gen that has stealth to evade radar, other fighters the other jets have that?

The replacement is slated to last for twenty years. Why do you think the media and opposition ignore the estimated value of contracts, jobs but factor in only the estimated purchase and repairs?

A lack of balance or bias?

This debate in the MSM and blogs is divided along partisans lines nicely.

No Liberal hawks or military supporters?

Jeff said...

We don't know what the "experts in the military" recommended, do we? And even if they did, the fact is their "recommendation" will be based on the criteria set by the government. So it's very easy for the government to get the "recommendation" it wants.

This is the biggest government procurement contract in Canadian history. To not have any degree of scrutiny is simply insane.

The government needs to outline exactly what the mission is it sees for our air force into the future. It has still, astoundingly, yet to take that basic step. With that in mind, then people could consider a) is that a realistic mission, and b) what is the right equipment to meet it? Who says we need stealth? For what missions? Why? The government won't say.

You want to talk about jobs? The Conservatives have obtained zero guarantees for Canadian companies. A competitive process would mean more guaranteed business and jobs for Canadian companies.

Instead of treating Canadians like adults, we're given half-assed spin and told just to trust the government on the biggest procurement contract in Canadian history.

If this has broken down along partisan lines (although many Con commentators are against the government on this issue) it's because this government would rather make this a partisan issue then debate the issue on its merits.

CanadianSense said...

An emotional outburst is the first sign of losing an argument.

Can you list the countries that have the F22 Raptor $150 million each? The US government has built less than one hundred and the Democrats are cutting funding in many of their programs. I only know of one that still has the F-22 Raptor as it has an export ban. I could not find any nation.

Jeff said...

Emotional? LOL. My mistake for thinking you actually wanted a serious discussion of the issue.

Consider my lesson learned.

WhigWag said...

@ CndnWhiner: the MSM have actually been giving the COns. a remarkably easy ride on most of its outlandish claims, until the Census debacle this summer made it clear that they're talking out of their hats & making stuff up as they go along, when, yes, it turned on them.

As for "ignoring" the ec. benefits we might get, that's 'cuz:

a) no one knows what they are / will be, thanks to your gov't's refusal to negotiate them (saying we've got a 'chance' as $12-B worth is like saying I've got a 'chance' at winning the lottery if I buy a ticket);

b) former ADM Alan WIlliams has made it clear we still have a 'chance' at all that whether or not we go ahead & buy, now, since we paid to play on the development; and

c) we'd reap such contracts no matter WHAT mega-billion projects we buy into (unless, of course, your boneheads are in charge), since that's the way major military & other gov't projects work.

But where the MSM -- like you -- has largely fallen down on, in this regard, is how some of our allies are getting much better deal : Israel in partic. is getting something like 175% return in reciprocal procurements (incl. the maintenance costs), compared to 75% at best, for us; and so Norway is now holding out for a 100% (i.e., 1 to 1) ratio (on what they pay the US & what Lockheed contracts back to them).



CanadianSense said...

my apologies for not addressing it directly to whig whag.

I have zero skin in the game again. Not a military contractor on either side.

My concern is history and Liberals ALL government sucking and blowing regarding the military.

Here is some light reading I recommend maybe you can help me understand how this is not a problem and why I am hostile to political games for our military. (Facts and evidence included)

WhigWag said...

Well, you might want to read it yourself, Cndn Headline reader:

rather than counselling that we put all our eggs in that one basket, even that anti-Liberal, self-appointed expert you linked to* had a long shopping list of aircraft to buy in which the F-35 barely made the list (he actually rec'd getting the cheaper F-16's, instead),

when he wrote (in '05),

"While Canada has joined in with other nations to provide research funding for the JSF project, no commitment from the government has yet been made to acquire these aircraft.

...The Air Force needs to focus its financial resources in the next ten years on:

• Buying up to 24 strategic heavy airlift transports...

• Obtaining 12 new medium airlift transports...

• Purchasing 200 F-16 Fighting Falcon attack fighter jets in the ‘60 Block’ series, or other
modern jets designed for air force operation. Preference should be considered for aircraft
used by the USAF to help ensure inter-operability with our largest defence and NORAD partner. I selected the Falcon for its good combat capabilities, proven combat history, while being more modest in cost as compared to newer fighters such as the F-22 Raptor. Included in the 200 Falcons would be electronic counter-measures variants, and two seated trainers. Note that another option would be in buying the new F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, also made by Lockheed-Martin.

• Replace the existing 18 CP-140 Aurora surveillance aircraft with at least 24 newer long range aircraft designed for the Surveillance, ASW, and SAR jobs that the Aurora now

• Purchasing 65 additional CH-149 Cormorants for SAR duties...

• Buying 4 new AC-130U Spooky gunships...

• Purchasing 14 more air-to-air refuelling aircraft...

• Buying up to four AWACS aircraft for both domestic defence and overseas operational roles....

pp. 60, 306-7"

(*launch page:

altho' he was a Reservist he's acually in the banking industry (he presented on behalf of the Western Forum of Credit and Financial Executives and Credit Grantors Association of Vancouver: www.leg.bc.ca/cmt/36thParl/foi/hansard/fi1029.htm

ridenrain said...

I was listening to some Liberal senator today on the radio seconding this as the jet of choice. I guess since he's safe from re-election, he can say what he thinks now. Otherwise the Libs have zero credibility on anything related to defense.
.. besides.. what are the chances we'll need fighters now that Chretien is out of office. We didn't even have the right uniforms when he put us in Afghanistan.

Tof KW said...

The jets we should be getting are SuperHornets. Generation 4.5, twin-engine and the US will be flying them for the next 25 years. They have no stealth but that's what makes them much more attractive price-wise (and Boeing is working on adding forward stealth anyhow). Also they've seen combat and performed well, the F-35 is still untested.

As for stealth technology, it can be beaten. A cut and paste from my post about this over at Scott's blog:

Oh, by the way I’d like to remind everyone that the US lost a stealth F-117 during the Yugoslav civil wars, in the skies over Kosovo to be exact. The Serbs managed to re-work their old Soviet designed SA-3 missiles to see temporary ‘blips’ and then anticipated the course of the stealth jets. They definitely downed one, and supposedly crippled two others which were able to return to base (that was denied by the US).

My point?

Now the F-117 is old stealth technology and the US is retiring them already (I would say the above experience hastened their retirement). However the Serbs were able to figure out how, if only temporarily, to ‘see’ them. Anyone guess how long it will be before the Chinese or the Russians can spot an F-35 on radar? Heck, I’ll wager that computer hackers in India have figured out a way.

Now does everyone see why I think stealth aircraft are a waste of money? The people we want to hide them from probably already know how to track them (or can figure it out quick if they deem it a threat), and the countries who can’t wouldn’t be able to track a SuperHornet either.

By the way, that Air Power Australia think tank confirmed in their report that the F-35's stealth is easy to breach by modern air defense systems. Obsolete right out of the hangar.

WhigWag said...

@CndnHeadlineReader: Try reading it yourself. Your own source doesn't even particularly rec. the F-35: instead, he rec's,
"Purchasing 200 F-16 Fighting Falcon attack fighter jets in the ‘60 Block’ series...for its good combat capabilities, proven combat history while being more modest in cost as compared to newer fighters such as the F-22 Raptor..." as well as a whole laundry list of other types of aircraft, on pp. 305-6.

Note, he also agrees w. Williams on p. 60 when he says, "While Canada has joined in with other nations to provide research funding for the JSF project, no commitment from the government has yet been made to acquire these aircraft."

WhigWag said...

@ridenrain: oh-oh - cognitive dissonance alert!

That was probably former Lt.-Gen. Romeo Dallaire you heard, who's been endorsing the purchase fairly widely.


But he also:

unequivocally condemns the prosecution of Omar Khadr & says it's a disgrace that the gov't hasn't repatriated him, since he was a child soldier.

and he's also slammed Veteran's Affairs.


- admittedly, those latter failings apply to both the Lib. & Con. gov't's.

But now that you tout & acknowledge his sensible on some things, I look forward to your silence on his other crit's.

But BTW, as a peacekeeping commander, he's not nec'ly an expert on our fighter jet needs.

Ted Betts said...

Partisan lines, eh?

More from Conservative anti-F-35 blogger Mark C. who actually knows what he's talking about:

"I wonder when our government will start demanding from Lockheed Martin and the US government a greater share of contracts for Canadian companies. After all it looks like we now plan to buy more of the blinking planes than the Brits...

It seems to me that these people, and this government, are turning into ostriches (at least the F-35 itself actually flies).

After citing or quoting a bunch of reasons the Brits are backing off of the F-35s including value for money and certainty of performance.

I'm not jet expert but I can see political spinning and excuse making as good as the next Canadian.

I didn't have a great care about which planes and tend to defer to experts doing the buying in such matters. But the more I read about this myself, the more it fails to pass the smell test on anything this government says about it.

Where there is smoke there is fire, where there is smell there is something rotten. This government can't be trusted to tell the truth about anything and now, after breaking its promise on sole sourcing, rather than even address the very basic and prudent questions posed, it turns on the attack with over-the-top spin and fearmongering. That is very revealing both about the government and about its position on this issue.

CanadianSense said...

Thanks Ted,

On BT we have a diversity of views including criticism of government policy on a wide range of subjects.

Some in B.T. agreed the spending was too big to fast but Ignatieff backed down and refused to risk an election.

I understand Britain is under financial pressure to reduce spending across the board including the military. It appears they are going to do the Chretien-Martin experiment of 10-15% spending cut.

CanadianSense said...

former Quebec Liberal MP Jacques Saada, now president of Quebec's aerospace association, agreed with the government earlier this week when he told QMI Agency there was a "very serious" competitive bid process in the late-90s.

Those deliberations, he said, last nearly five years and in the end the nine Joint Strike Fighter partners — including Canada, United States, Britain and Australia — all decided to buy the F-35.

Same article from SunNews.

The point is opposition suggest a competitive process did NOT take place when it did.

Experts in the government in military have recommended it and it appears the opposition to the purchase of $ 9 billion for 65 planes over 20 years is just another political stunt.

WhigWag said...

it wasn't our competition, it was the US's, for _their_ needs, which was not for a fighter, oer se (they already had the F-22 in the pipe). The president of Quebec's aerospace association is obviously an interested party. And you're obviously not interested in getting to the truth. Are all Conservative bloggers & commenters this stubborn and obtuse? Sigh.

Scanner said...

Bird and Parr explain Aircraft Carriers and the F35. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t0jgZKV4N_A&feature=player_embedded

Scanner said...

Oh, and if we need a big fast superjet, why aren't we looking at the Sukhoi T-50. Twin enjines, longer ranger than the F53 and full swiveling on the nacelles so its super maneuverable. And the Russians always overbuild their airframes so it will probably outlast the F35 in Canadian conditions. The Indians have signed on for a bunch and will be building them there. They've supplied the flight computer. Take this airframe and put Canadian engines and electronics in it and it would be threat to any operating fighter. Still, the question is, why do we need a superfighter Bet the boys on the ground in Afghanistan would vote for some AC-130's or more helicopters and I thinks a program developing long range drones would do a great job of sovereignty patrol in the arctic.

Doug Allen said...

We don't need the same jet. The Libyan campaign of 2011 saw inclusion of the Super Hornet, Eurofighter Typhoon, Dassault Rafale, and eve the Saab Gripen. All of these fighters were able to take part with no major issues to logistics or communications. This, despite being fielded by different forces.

All of these aircraft are being considered as alternatives to the F-35 under the "reset". All of them are available now. All of them are offered with many of the F35's features (data-link, AESA radar, etc). All of them are substantially cheaper than the F-35, both in initial cost and in sustainment costs.

Canada needs an open and fair fighter competition to determine the best aircraft for our needs and budget.

Join the discussion at: bestfighter4canada.blogspot.ca