The photo above is of two examples of the CF-105 Arrow, also known as the Avro Arrow, a supersonic jet fighter designed, built and tested here in Canada in the mid-late 1950s. It was a milestone in Canadian aviation and a great success for our high-technology industrial sector. The project was abruptly terminated in the late-1950s by the Progressive Conservative government of John Diefenbaker, who saw the project as emblematic of Liberal ‘big-government’ spending. Moreover, with the advent of long-range ballistic missiles and the launching of Sputnik (and subsequent Space Race) at the end of the 1950s, there was a widespread belief that ground and space based missiles would determine the strategic balance of the future. Thus the Arrow, the Iroquois engine and Velvet Glove missile system programs were all scrapped (literally, the aircraft were cut to pieces, engines smashed, blueprints burned in bonfires).
Avro Canada Ltd would go belly-up by 1962 as they had thrown almost all their efforts behind the project. Efforts to sell the Arrow or elements of the design to foreign nations were in fact prevented by Diefenbaker’s government (a Tory gov’t preventing free-market capitalism and over-regulating our high-tech and defence sector industries, funny) and many of the chief engineers would find work throughout the United States and Europe working for other major defence consortiums. Among others, former Avro employees would help design fighter aircraft in the UK, France and the United States, in addition to designing the Apollo Command and Service module. Indeed, as you can see from this Wikipedia entry Avro was involved in myriad state of the art technologies and were global aviation leaders.
A long time has passed since the Arrow program was cancelled. In its wake Avro would be sold to Hawker Siddeley (a British corporation), Canada acquired inferior American-built interceptors two years later (which employed nuclear weapons, not a popular move in Canada) and later, Canadair would take over construction and testing of Canadian-built versions of American-designed fighter models, including the Hornets we use today. It has been more than fifty years since we were so bold to dare develop our high-technologies sector by direct government investment and support as we once tried with the Arrow program.
And today, an opportunity has presented itself, one we seem to be very interested in squandering outright.
I don’t need to tell you about the multiple inter-related controversies surrounding the Harper government’s intention to procure 65 F-35 Joint Strike Fighters (check this out for all you need to know), but I will mention this; the plan currently involves leasing engines and weapons, providing service and maintenance contracts to non-military (perhaps non-Canadian) contractors and is already significantly over-budget given how few aircraft we’re to receive. Trudeau’s defence department ordered 138 Hornets between 1982 and 1988, and most of these aircraft subsequently underwent a total overhaul, update and modernization program about five years ago, leaving us with approximately one-hundred serviceable and still lethal aircraft. Furthermore, Canada has always used twin-engine, long-range fighters to defend our territorial sovereignty. The F-18 provided additional benefits, given that it was aircraft-carrier capable (meaning Canadian pilots could deploy from American carriers in time of war) and could fulfill multiple roles, such as interception, strike, close-support, reconnaissance etc.
The F-35 is an inferior aircraft to the F-18 in many ways, and what’s most maddening is that the F-35, at best, could only be a tactical alternative to F-18 (ergo, we deploy F-35s to bomb Libya and leave the F-18s to defend our airspace). Back during the Cold War this is typically how we operated, using two-types of multi-role aircraft, one for tactical missions and the other being used for more strategic defence roles. While the F-18s will need to be replaced by the end of the decade, replacing them with an unproven, still largely experimental and expensive fighter is obscenely irresponsible. Now while Canada has been involved in the F-35 project for some time, we have no legal responsibility to procure them, and it just so happens a more modern version of our current aircraft (The Super Hornet) is available, proven and could even be built here (given Canadair/Bombardier’s previous involvement in aircraft construction). That, or we could be bold and build precisely what we need in large enough numbers we can then re-coup production and R&D costs by selling surplus aircraft to friendly foreign nations.
What I don’t understand, however, is why a Conservative and apparent patriot like Stephen Harper isn’t chomping at the bit to realize a new Arrow. Frankly, you’d think this is stuff his wet dreams are made of.
What a hero he’d be for Canadian industry! What a great Canadian, correcting a terrible mistake from his party’s past. If only his head was in the game. What’s generally accepted is that the Arrow was the ideal fighter for Canada, and Canada is still just as involved protecting its airspace and conducting, and so we still require an aircraft with similar capabilities.
The recent discovery of a set of two Arrow ejection seats in the UK has re-ignited the persistent rumour that an intact Arrow may have been smuggled out of Canada and flown to the UK, possibly with Hawker Siddeley’s acquisition of Avro Ltd. In the years since the project’s cancellation, bits and pieces of Avro’s projects have turned up across Canada, including the Avro Car, the Avro jet-powered truck and many pieces belonging to the Arrow and Orenda Iroqouis engine projects. Enthusiasts have been trying to generate enough funds to re-assemble a working Arrow with the engines for years now, but without significant capital it is unlikely said enthusiasts will go much further than scaled-down wooden mock-ups. Stage props really.
Even if we don’t build new versions of the Arrow, at least give us the chance to build something for ourselves, to demonstrate our expertise and innovation. Our nation needs to be given goals, and the citizens must feel a tangible pride for what their nation accomplishes. Failure to involve yourself in the affairs of the People in this manner is negligent. So again I ask is it wise to allow our nation to procure the F-35? And would we rather deal with the consequences of that purchase, or create our own solution?
At the end of the day, you can’t assume you’ll get much vision from free-market enterprise. Someone must instigate a nation’s dreams.