Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Cabinet Ministers Peter Van Loan and Peter MacKay At Odds Over F-35’s Ability to Communicate While Operating in the Arctic

By David Pugliese
Defence Watch

The Harper government acknowledged in the Commons Monday that the F-35 stealth fighter can’t communicate while operating in the Arctic…and it also acknowledged that the aircraft can communicate when operating in the Arctic.

Or as one of Defence Watch’s NDHQ readers summed up the situation: “Just a regular day in the government’s handling of the F-35 file.”

This time the missteps played out on TV during the televised Commons debates.

First, NDP leader Nycole Turmel raised the issue of the Canadian Press article which cited Royal Canadian Air Force documents discussing concerns about about the F-35’s ability (or lack of) to communicate while operating in the Arctic. The CP article by Murray Brewster noted that the initial F-35s Canada will receive won’t have the satellite equipment to enable communications over the Arctic. That system won’t be ready until 2019 and there are no guarantees the system will work, according to the article.
But Peter Van Loan, the government house leader in the Commons, would have none of that. Turmel pointed to the contents of the CP article but Van Loan said the claim is false. “I cannot believe a single thing she said in that question because those statements are false,” he said, referring to her citing of the article and other F-35 issues.

But a short time later in the Commons, Defence Minister Peter MacKay essentially confirmed there is a problem with the F-35 communications in the Arctic….but not to worry.

“With respect to the operational requirements for communications in the north, this aircraft will have state of the art communications,” said MacKay. “We will not be taking receipt of the aircraft, of course, for another five years. We are working closely with the F-35 partners within the consortium to see that it has all of the operational capability for the 21st century.”

Military sources told Defence Watch that contrary to what Van Loan is suggesting, the Canadian Press article is indeed accurate. They hope the problems with Arctic communications and the F-35 will be fixed in the future.