Canada’s Conservatives: Historically Inept when it comes to Defence

Not the real deal, just a wooden mock-up for one of Peter Mackay’s endless photo-ops.

I hate to say I told you so…

It shouldn’t come as a surprise, but guess what – the F-35 program doesn’t even meet the defence ministry’s requirements for a new fighter, and no other bids were considered. This was a cash grab to reward business partners of individual members of the Conservative government, plain and simple. Even though top defence analysts were sounding the alarm years ago, the Tories simply pressed on to acquire a paltry sixty five F-35s, at the over-inflated cost of about fifteen billion dollars.

That’s your money. Money which could otherwise be going to build bullet trains, hospitals or schools, or perhaps saving the people of Attawapiskat from freezing or starving to death.

And all that money wouldn’t have included actually purchasing weapons or engines for the fighters, these were to be leased. The fighter was also hampered by it’s single engine (typically, combat missions in Canada’s Arctic require the power and capabilities of twin engines, like the Hornet and most other fighter types used in Canada), not to mention unproven testing record and comparatively small weapons load and restricted range. In sum, everything about this project made it inappropriate for Canadian service, and several other types of fighters were available, for less money, yet were never considered. Moreover, the project lacked much local economic spinoff in terms of long-term employment, and the number of aircraft to be acquired was insufficient to meet our nation’s air-defence requirements.

Of course this is nothing new for the Conservative Party of Canada. Diefenbaker famously killed the Avro Arrow, one of the most technologically advanced fighter aircraft ever built, and in turn set our aviation industry back for a generation. We still haven’t fully recovered. It was under Mulroney’s government that our military facilities in Germany were shut down, and today we have to rent space at other nation’s military facilities. His 1987 Defence White Paper made many promises, of which none came to fruition, with the exception of some expensive VIP jets. And now Harper is following in their footsteps, promising a lot and delivering nothing, except for a remarkably large bill.

How does he keep a straight face when he says that the Tories are the greatest proponents of the Canadian Forces? Bullshit – almost all the equipment our military uses today was procured under Liberal Prime Ministers.

The F-35 debacle is just another example of typical Tory procurement strategy – use the public purse to pay big dividends to your business partners at the expense of the tax-payer; since their only recourse is to vote the politician out of office, once the transaction is completed, the politician moves on to a corporate board of directors. The institution that is the Canadian government is merely a ladder by which to enter the upper echelons of world corporate governance, and it’s paid for by the unsuspecting tax-payers.

Really makes you wonder why we don’t all refuse, in unison, to pay our taxes until we get a full explanation of why our government was about to commit billions of dollars on inadequate fighter jets, and has been unable to realize on-time deliveries of Chinook and Cyclone helicopters too. Just what exactly are they doing with the defence budget?

I’d really like to know.

Final thought. At one point the idea was that we simply acquire the newer version of the F/A-18 Hornet. The ‘Super Hornet’ is an enlarged version of the original, with modern sensors and weapons. It has two engines, can operate in the Arctic, off of aircraft carriers or improvised airstrips. We built our CF-18 Hornets here in Canada, why couldn’t we simply build the new one here as well? The CF-18 has served this country exceptionally well since the late-1980s, has flown combat missions over Iraq, Bosnia, Kosovo, Libya and is ideally suited for the primary mission of aerospace defence inasmuch as they can be deployed in peace-making endeavours abroad. It is superior to the F-35 in countless ways, and we already have the local expertise to build the more modern version here at home.

Would this not be the more economically-sound alternative to the F-35 acquisition plan? Wouldn’t building the aircraft locally, according to our own specifications, support many more jobs here at home? And if we built an even better version than the original, could we not them sell such aircraft to our allies, at a profit? Would this not aid our economy in general and our aerospace industry, both directly and indirectly over a longer period of time?

Is there no more economic conservatism in the Conservative Party of Canada?

Seems that way…

4 thoughts on “Canada’s Conservatives: Historically Inept when it comes to Defence”

  1. Well said.

    A single fighter designed to fulfill Canada’s unique multi-mission requirements is hard to come by, which is partly why we’ve invested thirty years into the CF-18, a particularly innovative fighter design. I don’t want that money to go to waste in a strategic sense – there’s an industry here built around the F-18 platform. In a much smaller sense I suppose there’s a local industry built around the F-35 project, but it doesn’t have the deep economic ‘roots’ established through the CF-18 venture. Expanding on that project by doing whatever’s necessary to ensure local manufacturing, design input, maintenance contracts etc. of new versions of the Hornet will certainly help develop our aviation sector. If we keep buying them, others will build them as well. No pun intended, military aviation gives a semi-nationalized medium power economy some teeth. Throughout the Cold War Canada set the pace for many NATO nations vis-a-vis fighter acquisition. Canadair built most of Belgium’s immediate post-War air force; we built West German Starfighters, Norwegian Freedom Fighters etc etc. Re-committing to the Hornet would be advantageous given the number of foreign air forces also committed to the type.

    As to sales, well, your right, licensing gets in the way and the Americans don’t want additional competition in the aerospace sector, but we have our own concerns, and re-invigorating our aerospace industry via fighter development is worth the investment given the high-return in indirect economic stimulus. So we can either continue with what we’ve used for thirty years, build something completely new from scratch, or (regrettably it seems because I also feel it’s an inevitable acquisition), acquire an insufficient fighter with no discernable positive economic spin-offs. I’m not altogether comfortable with a defence ministry more concerned about international weapons sales rather than strategic aerospace defence. Frankly, I’d prefer we embark on building our own fighter and damn the costs – there’s no price too high when it comes to air power. I would want our nation to build nothing short of the finest piece of military hardware ever conceived; a fighter so exceptional and lethal it would be inconceivable for us to sell it to anyone else. I’m constantly reminded of just how bad a decision it was to scrap the Arrow project. If we’re going to spend money on defence, we must make sure the weapons we buy and build can actually do something worthwhile. The F-35 falls short in so many vitally important strategic ways it boggles my mind.

    I don’t know – maybe it’s time to return to the two-fighter solution we employed throughout the Cold War. Australia’s doing the same thing. Re-invest in Super Hornets as the primary air-defence platform and use the F-35s in tactical missions. It’s far from perfect, but it would certainly cost a lot. A great Canadian compromise in that it leaves no one happy and accomplishes little.

  2. Export military aircraft are often customized to meet contract requirements, but they remain basically the same aircraft. Regardless, the ability to assemble an aircraft and swap out parts is much easier to acquire than the expertise necessary to design an entirely new aircraft.

    These types of projects take well over a decade to come to fruition. Then there’s the problem that export customers usually like to acquire an aircraft that’s been battle tested to a certain degree. The political pull of the seller country also comes into play. I don’t know how high Sweden ranks on that board, but I’m pretty sure the US, France, the Eurofighter nations (UK, Germany, etc.) have Canada beat. Plus all these players can sweeten the deal with so-called technology transfers for cruise missiles, or UAV, or improved radar and whatnot.

    Boeing is not at liberty to transfer the Super Hornet tech to an outside party, they’re bound by ITAR legislation. I somehow don’t think the US Government would want to reward Canada’s dropping out of the JSF program by effectively setting them up as a competitor, especially not one who sells a plane they already produce.

    Point is, the government just needs to come out and say where they’re going with this acquisition program. Are they looking for an interceptor to patrol Canadian airspace, and/or to take part in coalition-type actions where our planes operate out of allied-controlled bases? Then the F-35 may not be a cost-effective choise and we need to look into the other options out there. Do we want to be able to embed more or less seamlessly into the US military apparatus and go where they go? Then the F-35 may be politically unavoidable.

  3. The first few examples were indeed produced in St. Louis, but the majority were assembled and modified by Canadair in Montreal. Extensive overhauls, modifications, repairs and upgrades were all carried out by major Canadian aerospace firms, to such a degree that our current fleet of Hornets are in effect new and very much a Canadian designed improvement on the original.

    You’re right, we don’t own the aircraft type, but we can certainly take them apart and put them back together.

    We should either build a completely new “Made-in-Canada” fighter jet based on CF-18, or acquire the type certificate from Boeing to build our own examples. If other countries can mange to acquire type certificates to this, why can’t we?

    If Boeing wants our business, they’ll sell us whatever we want. If they don’t, fine, we can go to Eurofighter, SAAB, Dassault, Lockheed-Martin or any other competitor.

    Point is, we should be working on what we’ve already built, and we happen to have a large air force and a large number of mechanics and pilots familiar with an excellent fighter aircraft, ideally suited to Canadian needs. The F-35 doesn’t meet any of our needs and is clearly a business opportunity concocted by the Harper government for their own myopic business needs. This isn’t smart for business, for nation-building and certainly not for defence.

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