Friday, November 18, 2011

‘Chatter and noise’ on the F-35s:
There’s no turning back, leaders say Provided by iPolitics Staff

There is no plan to backtrack on the F-35, so far as North America’s heads of defence are concerned.

At a press conference Friday, Defence Minister Peter MacKay and U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta held firm on the line that there is no turning back. Negative reports on the fighter program are “just chatter and noise,” MacKay told reporters in Halifax at the annual International Security Forum.

Earlier this week, reports surfaced that Panetta had warned Congress about the possibility of scrapping the jet program if a congressional super committee does not come to an agreement on the budget by the middle of next week. The committee has been deadlocked and this week urged congressional leaders to “bite the bullet.”

Except, according to the Washington Post, despite the rhetoric, if the committee fails to reach an agreement, nothing will happen right away. “The automatic spending cuts that were supposed to force the panel to deliver more palatable options would not take effect until January 2013,” notes the Post. “That leaves lawmakers a full year to devise alternatives.”

At Friday’s press conference, Panetta told reporters he was “very confident” the funding would come.

Canada and the U.S. are not the only nations putting up a positive front. This week, according to reports in Israeli media, officials are expressing optimism it will begin to receive its fleet of F-35s in 2016, two years behind schedule.

However, despite the positive spin, delays persist. Partners like Australia are rethinking their orders. While the U.S. will not likely scrap the project, any decrease in planes purchased will force costs to rise. Faced with this, the government’s claim its $9 billion commitment to purchase 65 planes seems increasingly fanciful. Certainly, the opposition thinks so.

New Democrat and Liberal MPs raised the issue this week in the House. When asked if there was a “Plan B,” associate minister of defence Julian Fantino assured the House that “there is also a plan A.” (This is to buy the F-35.)

Instead, as David Pugliese points out at the Ottawa Citizen, Fantino repeated his statements no matter the question: “Our plan is on track. We continue to monitor this investment. We are working towards progress. The planes are coming off the production line. Pilots are flying them. They are being delivered to the Joint Strike Fighter team.”

As maddening as that non-answer might be for the opposition, it is what they will continue to hear. With the U.S. looking to sell the planes to India, firm guarantees from early signatories of the memorandum of understanding are necessary to offer some semblance of stability for the program.

As it happens, that approach reflects the Conservative Party’s overall approach to any kind of uncertainty outside Canada.

During his speech at the Conservative convention this summer, the prime minister echoed his campaign stump speech, reminding Canadians the outside world was full of dangerous waters lapping at our shores and suggesting it was his government that could steer the country through.

“In such a world, strength is not an option,” he said. “It is a vital necessity.”

The government’s approach to the F-35 is very similar: No matter what, it will continue to present what it feels is a strong, stable, Conservative commitment. In other words, there is no Plan B.

© 2011 iPolitics Inc.

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