Can the F-35 be one key to defending Canada against a rogue North Korean missile?
An article on the usually well informed Aviation Week website suggests that is the case. “A Lockheed Martin F-35 armed with four Raytheon AIM-120 Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missiles (Amraams)” could, the article suggests, intercept and destroy a North Korean missile; that assumes, of course, that the launch was detected (very, very likely) and the missile was being accurately tracked (also highly likely) and that the F-35 could be “vectored” to an intercept course, and so on (also quite likely … IF those F-35s were based in e.g. Cold Lake, Alberta it probably could destroy a missile that was likely to hit a target in Canada.
Will used, 30-year-old ex-Royal Australian Air Force F-18s be able to do that? Well, it appears that the F-18 can carry and launch the AIM 120 missile and the RCAF uses the AIM 120, so that part is possible. But does the CF-18 Hornet have the advanced command, control and communications (C³) suite that will allow the Ballistic Missile Defence system to incorporate it (the aircraft/missile system) into the overall, multi-modal, layered, ballistic missile defence scheme? I don’t know … I understand, from what I hope are informed sources, that the AIM 120 “outranges” the CF-18’s radars, so that’s not encouraging, and I do know that one of the F-35 Lightning II‘s main selling points is its information management capabilities which would seem to be key to this business.
Is a rogue North Korean missile launch a real, credible threat to Canada? Do I really need to answer that? Is there anyone with the brains the gods gave to green peppers who thinks they are not a threat? Oh, yeah … sorry, folks, I forgot about Justin Trudeau and his new strategic policy advisor.
I understand that the European Typhoon fighter carries the AIM 120, but is its C³ suite up to the standards required to integrate it into a ballistic missile defence system? I don’t know … my guess is that there are many people in the higher levels of the government and military who have thought long and hard about threats to Canada and continental missile defence, but I suspect that while they are being heard near the “corridors of power” I doubt that their views matter in the Prime Minister’s Office where the focus is totally on the 2019 campaign.
Now, don’t get me wrong; it is 100%, totally and completely, the duty and the sole right of elected politicians to decide on how to defend Canada, and that includes the responsibility to decide on how much to spend on what sorts of ships, tanks and aircraft to buy … if any at all. You can line up all the admirals and generals and commodores and colonels, shoulder to shoulder, and you will see 0% responsibility for defending Canada. They, the admirals and generals and the men and women they lead into battle have all of the absolutely unlimited liability for the government’s decisions but they do not get to make any of them … in fact, their advice can be and often is ignored, with impunity. That’s how our system works and, by and large, that’s how it is supposed to work … we, the people, are responsible to defend ourselves; that’s a complex and expensive business so we delegate most of the work to the people we elect ~ we’ve been doing that for almost 1,500 years, ever since we actually elected our own rulers (our elders (the ealdormen of Anglo-Saxon England who, as the Witan, sometimes elected kings). We have elected Team Trudeau and, for better or worse, they are allowed to decide on how best to defend us against a rogue North Korean missile attack … my guess is that they will want to rely upon hope and fancy socks. But, Andrew Coyne is (partially) wrong: the problem with defence procurement is NOT that defence always comes last, the problem is that there is not a comprehensive system that puts strategic and military requirements (and they are often different) in their correct places on a fairly complex political totem pole.
It used to be that the military was asked to “appreciate the situation” and the military appreciation is, in fact, an elegant form of reasoning that uses the rigorous analysis of known fact (and often, of necessity, assumed ones) to arrive at the best course of action for any given problem. But the military, including the Canadian military, has, too often, been guilty of “situating the appreciation” (making a desired course of action “fit” the problem) instead of “appreciating the situation” and this is what the RCAF generals were accused of doing when it came to setting forth the requirements for both Search and Rescue and fighter aircraft. By the time Team Harper came to power in 2006, I sensed that the civil service had lost faith in the military’s ability to manage its own money or its own future. I think some very senior civil servants told Prime Minister Harper that he should not believe a lot of what was coming out of his defence HQ … I believe they were right. I believed, then, and I still do now, that there is still too much “situating the appreciation” and far too little of the rigorous analysis that used to characterize the military appreciation of the situation. That is, I think, why we saw so much political interference in both ship-building and aircraft procurement: the politicians did not trust the operational or financial analyses of their own senior military officers and defence department officials.
But there should be somebody, the Clerk of the Privy Council most likely, who can, now and again, burst the partisan bubble that surrounds this prime minister (as it does many) and provide him with some proper, expert strategic advice. That advice should include an outline but sensibly costed plan to reform, rejuvenate and reequip the Canadian Armed Forces, including how to approach strategic defence, and how to rebuild the Canadian defence procurement system. Those plans should be (very quietly) leaked to the official opposition so that they, too, know what the experts think is needed for Canada’s safety and security in this rather mad 21st-century world.
The basic question is: is there a case to rethink the F-35, not just as a fighter aircraft, but, rather, as one part of bigger, comprehensive, integrated continental strategic defence project that includes Canadian satellites, shipborne, ground-based and airborne radars and other sensors and a continental, allied command, control and communications (C³) superstructure for strategic defence? My suspicion is that question is not being asked at the Trudeau cabinet table … it should be.