Sunday, May 15, 2011

Irresponsible to commit to F-35 at this stage

Re: "Trust military, civilian experts on F-35, Hawn urges," by Laurie Hawn, Letters, May 12.

MP Laurie Hawn would do well to heed his own advice and "be better informed."

I retired in 2005 after enjoying a 33-year career in the federal public service, the last 10 years of which were spent in defence procurement. As the person who signed the 2002 Memorandum of Understanding with the Pentagon for the F-35, committing Canada to the second phase of the Joint Strike Fighter program, I continue to be alarmed as to how the facts continue to be distorted.

Hawn's assertions should not be allowed to go unchallenged.

To continue to distort and misrepresent the facts concerning the F-35 purchase is unconscionable.

First, Hawn says, "We did indeed look closely at five other aircraft."

Not true. Any internal comparison is subject to the biases of those conducting the study. The only way to rigorously compare and contrast aircraft is through an open, fair and transparent competition. This was not done.

Frankly, under any comparison conducted today, the F-35 would fail, as it is currently under development and is not even operational.

Second, Hawn says it will cost $9 billion for 65 aircraft. Not true. While others have claimed the costs to be much higher, the fact is no one, including Hawn, can state with certainty what these aircraft will cost.

What we do know for certain is that the costs continue to go up.

The Pentagon is working very closely with the aircraft manufacturer, Lockheed Martin, to reduce these rising production costs.

The cost of new weapons usually goes down as manufacturing matures, but Lockheed Martin submitted a bid that was about $7 million higher per plane than in the last contract, sources familiar with the program told Reuters last week.

"Everybody knows the same truth, which is that we've got to drive down the cost of the airplane," Ashton Carter, the chief weapons buyer for the U.S. military, told Reuters this week.

Hawn is correct when he says, "we owe our men and women the equipment to do the difficult tasks we give them."

However, to commit to purchase an aircraft whose capabilities are still unproven and for which we have no confirmed costs to acquire or to sustain is irresponsible.

A competitive procurement will erase all doubts.

Alan Williams, Ottawa

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