So now the government has decided to obey their own procurement rules. What does this exactly mean? To me this means questioning all assumptions that go into this procurement. Who are we as Canadians on the world stage, war fighters or peacemakers? What should we be doing in the world? What is affordable? Perhaps we need to start there.
In the world of war fighters there is denial, but no doubt, that we are seeing the last generations of the fighter pilot, and probably already past the military utility of horrendously expensive manned fighter aircraft. The mid east conflict has shown definitively the value of unmanned and remotely controlled aircraft in reconnaissance and ground attack roles. There is no doubt that soon the air to air combat mission will be unmanned. The same for the maritime patrol roles or to meet any airspace sovereignty requirements. So what missions should the Canadian people ask an air force to fulfill? Certainly sovereignty surveillance, aid to the civil power in disasters, UN peacekeeping assistance, and alliance contributions for mutual defence. Hopefully, some mix of strategic transport, helicopters, maybe certain classes of drones will suffice.
On the subject of the F35, I hope that DND is very embarrassed, as well they should be, in how this was handled. They know better. They have been managing major capital projects for over 40 years. The political interference, the air force “old boys” network among allies, and the self interest must have been unbelievable..
If this procurement is now to be fair, then we need to remember that we buy aircraft generally on a COST, PERFORMANCE, SCHEDULE, AND INDUSTRIAL OFFSET BASIS. A quick look would seem to indicate:
On the issue of cost, the F35 fails miserably against all competitors, which are cheaper by a huge margins. The F35 life cycle cost is 25 billion only if we are very very lucky.
On the issue of performance, the F35 fails again and is mediocre at best against competitors. Canada is huge and stealth compromises range, payload and manoeuvrability. Who pays for new air to air refuelling tankers? The F35 has limited range and capacity compared to competitors. Hanging fuel tanks and weapons on the F35 eliminates stealth. All others are better except possibly in the stealth mode. Stealth is not an overriding criteria for Canadian requirements Do we need it?
On the issue of schedule the F35 fails miserably against competitors. The delivery schedule is totally unknown with the F35. The F35 will be manufactured under a block concept. Block 1 basic aircraft that can fly with very limited mission capacity will be delivered first. Then further capability will be developed and tested and incorporated in succeeding block upgrades. Clients will have to retrofit every upgrade developed at great expense. 5 to-6 blocks are expected. This will be a configuration nightmare. Whereas current competitors are tested and largely developed before delivery. Development requirements are a NIGHTMARE to any aircraft procurement project as it is a license for massive cost overruns and delays.
On the issue of industrial offsets, if this is what this is about, this money could probably pay for 400,000 students through university, and many other programs, and more industrial development than this project will ever bring. We can extend the life of the CF-18 or begin to invest in unmanned aircraft which is the next generation.
We have a chance to do this right, so let us get it right this time. This must be a shining example of fairness, transparency, affordability and consistent with Canadian values of peace and security.
Colonel Retired (Former CF-18 Aerospace Engineering and Life Cycle Fleet Manager)
President Paul Maillet CENTER FOR ETHICS