Tuesday, November 1, 2011

F-35 Fighters: Careful Consideration Needed

October 26, 2011
Last year, Stephen Harper’s Conservative government announced that it would proceed unilaterally with the purchase of sixty-five F-35 jets to replace our CF-18 fleet. The government did not once consult the opposition or want to debate the issue. This lack of debate has inevitably caused some serious issues to arise.
The Harper government still refuses to release the statement of requirements developed by the Department of National Defence. Not only is the government preventing any real debate on the subject but it is making itself the sole arbiter of this extremely costly and highly questionable purchase. When the government says that the F-35 is the only aircraft that can meet Canada’s needs, we are forced to put our blind faith in its decision.
In terms of program costs, there is no way of knowing exactly how much we will pay for the F‑35s. The government puts the cost at $75 million per aircraft, not counting maintenance. The U.S. Government Accountability Office anticipates that Canada will pay at least $110 million per aircraft, and Kevin Page, the Parliamentary Budget Officer, estimates a price tag of $148 million each. Declining orders for the F-35 and significant delays in the development of the aircraft mean that the $75-million estimate is completely unrealistic. Everyone except the Harper government expects the costs to exceed initial estimates. Moreover, the economic benefits of the F-35s are very ill-defined. We have no guarantee on contracts for Canadian companies, even though the industrial benefits policy stipulates that the economic benefits to Canada must equal 100% of the value of the contract.
Lastly, the F-35 has many shortcomings. Tests show that, given its lack of speed, the F-35 would consistently be beaten in aerial combat by the previous generation of jets, particularly the CF-18 that we want to replace. The F-35s are effective for air-to-ground attacks but would require an integrated military approach, where Canada’s role would be limited to supporting other countries and other air forces. Moreover, the aircraft would not be effective in defending Canada’s security and borders, contrary to the government’s position. Durability tests by Lockheed-Martin also show that cracks appeared on the aircraft’s wings after 1,600 hours of flight. Problems with the aircraft’s communications system announced this week are the last straw.
In short, not only does the government refuse to debate replacing the CF-18s but it is consistently trying to conceal cost overruns and problems with the F-35s. We are calling for a real debate on this issue, and for an open and transparent competitive process.
Christine Moore
MP for Abitibi–Témiscamingue
Official Opposition Critic for Military Procurement