FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Canada and the F-35

As an American, I am extremely reluctant to presume to offer Canada advice on how to proceed with the purchase of the F-35 “Joint Strike Fighter.” However, the airplane is the culmination of such malevolent trends in my own country’s defences that I believe any ally and neighbour should be warned about going down the same path.

Three simple questions show what a poor choice the F-35 is for the United States -and for Canada.

What will the F-35 cost? Canada’s Memorandum of Understanding -it’s not a contract -pretends $9 billion (Canadian) will buy 65 F-35s and initial logistics, simulators, spare parts, and more. The unit price for each aircraft in that pitch is “low-to-mid $70M per aircraft.”

That’s hogwash. The current unit price in the Unites States for the F-35 is $155 million. Even considering the discount Canada will get, your Parliamentary Budget Officer has estimated a unit cost of either $129 million or $148 million, depending on estimating factors.

All of those figures are optimistic; both Canada and America should expect to pay more, but neither of us will know the exact amount until all testing is complete in about 2017. If the F-35 price does not increase between now and then, that will be the first time for a combat aircraft in decades, perhaps in history.

How well does the F-35 perform? Canada, and the U.S., will not know what F-35 performance really is until after all testing is complete about six years from now.

Most of the performance rhetoric about the F-35 centres on the terms “Fifth Generation” and “stealth.” Far from an ability to fly anywhere “unseen,” as some have said, stealth limits the ability of selected radars to detect the F-35 to lesser distances. In the presence of other radar types -some of them quite old designs -stealth aircraft can be “seen” routinely at long distance. Americans learned this when in 1999 Serbian air defences in the Kosovo air war shot down one “stealth” F-117 and severely damaged another using quite antiquated radar air defences.

Even if the F-35 lives up to all of its aerodynamic promises -and it won’t -it is so heavy and bulky that its engine gives it less rapid acceleration than American F-18Cs or F-16Cs. The F-35’s hefty weight and its small wings give it a “wing loading” (and as a result manoeuvrability) roughly equivalent to a 1960s era American F-105 fighter-bomber. The F-105 “Lead Sled” was notorious for its inability to defend itself over North Vietnam during the Indochina War. When you put aside all the buzz words, the F-35’s already high cost buys only a major performance disappointment.

Why not wait? Like your government’s proposed purchase of F-35s before all testing is complete and all costs are known, the United States has been rushing to “buy” before we “fly” for decades. It has been a disaster.

Since 2000, Americans have added $320 billion to our Air Force’s budget, a 43-per-cent increase. Since then, our fighter and bomber squadrons declined from 146 to 72, or 51 per cent. This is not a smaller, newer Air Force; it is a smaller older Air Force.

This decay comes from new aircraft cost growth above the growth in the Air Force budget. We have been making decisions on the basis of poorly supported “buy-in” promises. The only way out of this decay is to better understand the future consequences of our contemporary decisions: A challenge that Canada faces on the F-35 in a direct and meaningful sense.

Of course, you are being told to commit now. Your CF-18s are wearing out, and you have industrial incentives. Others face a similar aging problem; some have been offered the very same carrots. In response, the U.S. Navy is keeping alive its F-18 production line, and the U.S. Air Force is extending the operating life of F-16s, as you can do with the CF-18. Others are having second thoughts in the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Denmark, Norway, and Israel.

It is time to start over. That will require a fly-before-buy prototype competition between affordable and effective designs. That would virtually eliminate the F-35, but it should, nonetheless, be allowed to compete. That is the course I recommend for the United States to end the F-35 fiasco. I urge Canadians to consider the same.

WINSLOW T. WHEELER is director of the Straus Military Reform Project of the Center for Defense Information in Washington D.C. He was invited last December to comment on the F-35 to the House of Commons’ Standing Committee on National Defence; this commentary is based on his written testimony.

 

 

 

 

More articles by:

Winslow T. Wheeler is the Director of the Straus Military Reform Project at the Project on Government Oversight.  He spent 31 years working for the Government Accountability Office and both Republican and Democratic Senators on national security issues.

December 18, 2018
Charles Pierson
Where No Corn Has Grown Before: Better Living Through Climate Change?
Evaggelos Vallianatos
The Waters of American Democracy
Patrick Cockburn
Will Anger in Washington Over the Murder of Khashoggi End the War in Yemen?
George Ochenski
Trump is on the Ropes, But the Pillage of Natural Resources Continues
Farzana Versey
Tribals, Missionaries and Hindutva
Robert Hunziker
Is COP24 One More Big Bust?
David Macaray
The Truth About Nursing Homes
Nino Pagliccia
Have the Russian Military Aircrafts in Venezuela Breached the Door to “America’s Backyard”?
Paul Edwards
Make America Grate Again
David Rosnick
The Impact of OPEC on Climate Change
Binoy Kampmark
The Kosovo Blunder: Moving Towards a Standing Army
Andrew Stewart
Shine a Light for Immigration Rights in Providence
December 17, 2018
Susan Abulhawa
Marc Lamont Hill’s Detractors are the True Anti-Semites
Jake Palmer
Viktor Orban, Trump and the Populist Battle Over Public Space
Martha Rosenberg
Big Pharma Fights Proposal to Keep It From Looting Medicare
David Rosen
December 17th: International Day to End Violence against Sex Workers
Binoy Kampmark
The Case that Dare Not Speak Its Name: the Conviction of Cardinal Pell
Dave Lindorff
Making Trump and Other Climate Criminals Pay
Bill Martin
Seeing Yellow
Julian Vigo
The World Google Controls and Surveillance Capitalism
ANIS SHIVANI
What is Neoliberalism?
James Haught
Evangelicals Vote, “Nones” Falter
Vacy Vlanza
The Australian Prime Minister’s Rapture for Jerusalem
Martin Billheimer
Late Year’s Hits for the Hanging Sock
Weekend Edition
December 14, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
A Tale of Two Cities
Peter Linebaugh
The Significance of The Common Wind
Bruce E. Levine
The Ketamine Chorus: NYT Trumpets New Anti-Suicide Drug
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Fathers and Sons, Bushes and Bin Ladens
Kathy Deacon
Coffee, Social Stratification and the Retail Sector in a Small Maritime Village
Nick Pemberton
Praise For America’s Second Leading Intellectual
Robert Hunziker
The Yellow Vest Insurgency – What’s Next?
Patrick Cockburn
The Yemeni Dead: Six Times Higher Than Previously Reported
Nick Alexandrov
George H. W. Bush: Another Eulogy
Brian Cloughley
Principles and Morality Versus Cash and Profit? No Contest
Michael F. Duggan
Climate Change and the Limits of Reason
Victor Grossman
Sighs of Relief in Germany
Ron Jacobs
A Propagandist of Privatization
Robert Fantina
What Does Beto Have Against the Palestinians?
Richard Falk – Daniel Falcone
Sartre, Said, Chomsky and the Meaning of the Public Intellectual
Andrew Glikson
Crimes Against the Earth
Robert Fisk
The Parasitic Relationship Between Power and the American Media
Stephen Cooper
When Will Journalism Grapple With the Ethics of Interviewing Mentally Ill Arrestees?
Jill Richardson
A War on Science, Morals and Law
Ron Jacobs
A Propagandist of Privatization
Evaggelos Vallianatos
It’s Not Easy Being Greek
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail