Thursday, November 3, 2011

Mark Collins - The F-35 and Canada: A Former CF-18 Pilot’s Views

In response to Commodore (ret’d) Lehre’s post on the F-35, Air Force Major (ret’d) Steve Fuhr, a former CF-18 pilot and CF-18 Fleet Manager at 1 Canadian Air Division for five years, makes the following points:
A few problems with the commodore’s assessment of what the F-35A brings to the table:
  1. His detection range information is based on current and well understood enemy radar systems. There are many defence experts who will counter this argument by saying that different radar wave forms or completely different search techniques, e.g. infra-red search and track (IRST), will marginalize current stealth technologies.
  2. First strike capability is quickly being assumed by cruise missiles and UCAVs.
  3. Alternatives to higher levels of stealth? Mastery of the electronic spectrum using sophisticated jammers will undoubtedly deny enemies a first shoot opportunity, i.e. they may be able to see us but there is nothing they can do about it. As the commodore alludes to, electronic support aircraft are an alternative to stealth.
  4. Outside our own borders Canada is a coalition partner not an autonomous air force when it comes to projecting air power. Canada, for example, is responsible to contribute well-defined capabilities to NATO. First strike capability in a high threat environment is not currently, and does not have to be, party of the capabilities we agree to provide. France and Germany are not buying F-35s. They have committed to the Dassault Rafale and the Eurofighter Typhoon respectively as their front line fighter aircraft. Does this mean they will be excluded from future coalitions? I don’t think so. Moreover, the UK now plans to purchase a much reduced number of F-35s (now the “C” carrier-based version, some 40-50) and will rely heavily on the Typhoon as their main fighter well into the future. Those countries are our three biggest European NATO partners.
  5. The US Navy is still buying Super Hornets and will have large numbers in service for many years to come. The Super Hornet is affordable, supportable, and interoperable. It will capitalize on our current infrastructure as a plug and play alternative that is orders of magnitudes more capable than our legacy CF-18. Is a fighter that will satisfy one of the world’s largest air forces (The US Navy) for many roles not good enough for the RCAF?
  6. The F-35 cannot deliver on time or on budget. Not even close!
What we give up with the F-35 option:
  1. TWO engines! Absolutely essential for remote and desolate operations.
  2. An aircraft capable of integrating into our current infrastructure. (tooling, training, runways, air-to-air refueling, SATCOM, etc). This will cost Canadian tax payers hundreds of millions, if not billions, more than the F-35 project has accurately accounted for. Out of the box the F-35A lacks the basics.
  3. The F-35 can’t service a large number of targets per sortie due to its small internal weapons carriage capacity. Weapons capacity is essential for NORAD and counter-insurgency operations. When the F-35 is eventually able to carry external stores that configuration will destroy its stealth characteristics which will marginalize the aircraft’s main rationale.
  4. A known price. One we can afford.
Major Fuhr wrote an article on the F-35 and Canada in the July 13, 2011 edition ofJane’s Defence Weekly (not available online); he appeared Sept. 21 on CBC TV’sPower & Politics (1:15:15 here, followed by Conservative MP Laurie Hawn (estwhile Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence and also former CF-18 pilot - more at end here))