Tuesday, February 7, 2012

More F-35 troubles likely to fuel
opposition in the House Provided by iPolitics Staff

© 2012 iPolitics Inc.

It would probably be a safe bet that those watching question period in the next few days will see more questions from the opposition about the F-35 fighter jet. Here’s a quick roundup of some headlines you can expect hear about in the House:

Last week in the House, the NDP again questioned Associate Minister of Defence Julian Fantino on whether Canada will have a “Plan B” in place in case the F-35 acquisition doesn’t work out as planned – that is, paying $9 billion for 65 jets and accoutrements. That question has yet to be answered in full, but if we take anything from Fantino’s talking points, the department is “monitoring” the situation.

What situation?

So far it’s had a lot to do with the U.S.’ decision to slow production on the F-35, and delay purchase of and the work on about 179 planes during the next five years. That’s enough to cause some consternation, given the limited timeline Canada is dealing with – it needs to get some planes in the air before its older CF-18s are no longer usable (though their lifespans can be extended and are likely to be, at this rate).

What has been coming out recently, though – and is worth taking note of (before it gets to the level of a question period attack) – is some insight as to what might have gone wrong with the entire Joint Strike Fighter program.

At Reuters, there’s this story on the U.S. Defense Department’s head arms buyer, who says the plan to start building the F-35 years before testing was fully complete was “acquisition malpractice.” Here’s a bit more to clarify:

Kendall said the initial approach of having concurrent work on development and production was problematic, but the Pentagon was managing the program carefully and remained committed to the new radar-evading fighter.

However, he also noted that:

Problems on the plane so far were typical of those experienced by other big new aircraft programs, and he had not seen anything that would prevent the continuation of production at the current low rates.

So, OK. Maybe now things are getting to a manageable state. Still, Canada ought to wonder what, exactly, we’re going to do if the F-35s don’t make it here in time. There have been reports that other partner countries in the Joint Strike Fighter program – namely Australia and Israel (which is not, for the record, the same kind of partner Canada is) – are already shoring up their air forces with other planes in the interim.

Now comes news the UK will defer making a firm commitment on its overall purchase of F-35s until 2015, though it will still receive the 3 test planes.

From CBS News:

Britain in 2001 committed to buy 138 of the multirole stealth aircraft, but the current coalition government in its 2010 defense review said it would cut the number of F-35s it had on order without saying by how many.

A spokesman for Lockheed, the top U.S. defense contractor, said Britain’s total order had not been revised down and remained at 138. Britain was due to receive its first F-35 in June. [...]

While there have been reports Britain will cut its order to 50 F-35s, the MoD said it did not recognize that figure.

Expectations for the number of F-35s Britain will eventually order have been curtailed since the MoD’s decision to use only one aircraft carrier, which will routinely have 12 fast jets embarked for operations, while retaining a capacity to deploy up to 36.

For its part, the U.S. has decided to upgrade (from Sky News):

The US Air Force plans to spend $2.8 billion to keep old combat aircraft in the air because of major delays with the new F-35 fighter jet program, top officials said on Friday.

With the production schedule of the F-35 jet repeatedly postponed due to technical problems, the Pentagon will upgrade 350 aging F-16 fighters to fill the gap in the fleet, Air Force leaders told reporters.

Officials discussed extending the service life of the F-16s as they unveiled details of the Air Force’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2013.

Canada has already made upgrades to its CF-18s, but the government hasn’t said yet what it plans to do next. This would probably fall under that “Plan B” the opposition keeps asking about and that Fantino seemed to indicate to the House existed last fall during question period, when he said: “Not only is there a Plan B, but there is a Plan A.”

Unfortunately, while we wait for Plan B, there’s more bad news on the horizon.

In Australia, a defence lobby, Air Power Australia, has reportedly told a parliamentary subcommittee on defence that the F-35’s stealth qualities are overrated and, according to the Australian, that “the plane’s combat performance” has been “greatly exaggerated.”

Specifically, Air Power suggests the F-35 would be no match for the next generation of Russian and Chinese fighter jets.

From the Australian:

Latest-generation Russian fighters such as the Sukhoi T-50 would easily defeat the F-35 in air-to-air combat, Air Power’s Peter Goon said, referring to recent modelling tests by his organisation.

“The aircraft we are planning to buy is carrying over 2000 pounds (900kg) of dead weight,” Mr Goon said, referring to the JSF’s big jet engines.

New Russian and Chinese air defence radars would also have little trouble detecting the JSF, a craft touted for its stealth qualities, he added.

No comments:

Post a Comment