Complications in the fighter follies

There is a story by Lee Berthiaume of the Canadian Press on National Newswatch that says that “The long effort to replace Canada’s aging fighter jets took another surprise twist on Tuesday, as multiple sources revealed that French fighter-jet maker Dassault is pulling out of the multibillion-dollar competition.

The decision comes just over a week after the federal government published the military’s requirements for a replacement for Canada’s CF-18s as well as a draft 7da858c979a50c4acd91a017bfe1e5b120130203tchad44opfevrier0069process by which a winning supplier will be chosen,” Mr Berthiaume writes and he says that “Dassault had repeatedly pitched its Rafale aircraft to Canada over the years as successive governments in Ottawa have wrestled with selecting a new fighter jet. Dassault’s pitch included significant promises, including that it would assemble the planes in Canada.

His sources told The Canadian Press that “Dassault’s decision to withdraw was related to the fact France is not a member of the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing network, which counts the U.S., Britain, Australia, New Zealand and Canada as members. The five members have very specific requirements for how their equipment works together.” I am a tiny bit sceptical; there is, indeed, a “Five Eyes” intelligence-sharing agreement and it does have certain (doubtless very strict) communications security standards for exchanging information but I’m not sure that a French fighter jet using NATO standard communications links would be non-compliant. David Pugliese, writing in the Ottawa Citizen, says that “Dassault Aviation has officially confirmed to Agence France-Presse that the firm has pulled out of Canada’s future fighter program. The company had planned to offer the Rafale but decided against competing the aircraft because of the extensive Canadian requirements for interoperability with U.S. forces.” That suggests that communications and sensor technology standards may be at issue, but another report, in Air Force Technology, says that “The communications suite on the Rafale uses the Saturn onboard very/ultra-high frequency (V/UHF) radio, which is a second-generation, anti-jam tactical UHF radio for NATO. Saturn provides voice encryption in fast-frequency hopping mode … [and] … The aircraft is also equipped with fixed-frequency VHF / UHF radio for communications with civil air traffic control. A multifunction information distribution system (MIDS) terminal provides secure, high-data-rate tactical data exchange with NATO C2 stations, AWACS aircraft or naval ships.” There is a lot of open-source information about MIDS systems, using NATO Link 16, on the internet.

gripen snowIf Dassault is pulling the Rafale out over US interface standards concerns then one wonders how well the SAAB Gripen can fare. One assumes that the 382-eurofighter-typhoonEurofighter Typhoon, being partially a UK project, might have less problems fitting and using communications and information technology that will meet US requirements.

It makes me wonder if we have a two-horse race to replace our ageing CF-18 Hornets. Is it the Lockheed-Martin Lightning II, the jet Justin Trudeau said he would not buy because it does work, vs the European Typhoon? It also begs the questions: how many do we really need? and how many can we afford? and do we want to use defence procurement to realign our trading relationships away from the USA, to punish Trump’s America for NAFTA USMCA and aluminium and steel tariffs, and towards Europe, to prove that the CETA works?

Or, one might also wonder, did Dassault just realize that since Team Trudeau has allowed Lockheed-Martin into the competition that will, since it’s being run by civil servants, likely be fair and honest, the Rafale is not likely to win and there is little point in spending all that money ~ and entering a bidding process for a multi-billion dollar contract is an expensive business in its own right ~ with little hope of return was going to be a waste?

Published by Ted Campbell

Old, retired Canadian soldier, Conservative ~ socially moderate, but a fiscal hawk. A husband, father and grandfather. Published material is posted under the "Fair Dealing" provisions (§29) of the Copyright Act for the purposes of research, private study and education.

9 thoughts on “Complications in the fighter follies

  1. I am certain that the military manufacturing industry in France has seen this “song & dance” routine enough times to know the outcome. Recall a few years back when Canada was interested in purchasing the two Mistral Class ships that were constructed for Russia but not delivered. France even brought one of the ships to Canada to showcase their capabilities. A very modern ship that would have introduced a capability that the the Canadian Navy has coveted for some years. After a period of indecision from Canada, France eventually sold the ships to Egypt. More recently France sent one of their modern FREMM Class frigates to Canada as a potential contender for new frigates for the Canadian Navy. Again there was a very small realistic chance of making a sale. It takes a lot of time and money to submit a bid on any military procurement. When you factor in a slim to nil chance of making a sale you learn from past experience. Unfortunate as the Rafale would be a serious contender when you filter out political interference.

    That does not leave many alternatives to replace the airforce fleet. If you disregard the political meddling the choices are few and the decision is relatively straightforward. The Typhoon is a very capable aircraft, but would only be a serious contender if they made Canada an offer too good to refuse. Not likely to happen. The Superhornet is another serious contender, but only at this point in time. By the time that the aircraft is on the flight line, in sufficient numbers, the design would be somewhat dated. A new upgraded F-15 would be the ultimate airframe, but prohibatively expensive to purchase / operate for Canada. The new Saab Gripen might be a good choice, but most likely could not complete all of the missions that Canada requires. Although the Gripen is one of the most modern designs available it is not currently flown by any of our main allies. The Gripen could be a good choice to round out a two aircraft fleet and give the Airforce the number of airframes that it requires.

    No matter which way we analyze this procurement the last aircraft remaining will be the F-35. The more time that we spend on this, somewhat hollow, procurement process the longer the timeline before the Canadian Airforce has the the aircraft that they requie to accomplish the tasks that we ask of them. It is almost certain that the final cost of the procurement will increase with time.

    If the ultimate outcome is becoming more obvious with every passing month let us get the negotiations started. As there are still some reservations it is feasible that Canada could split the procurement. An order to purchase two squadrons (36 aircraft) of F-35 would get the procurement proceeding. That leaves a few years to select a follow on aircraft purchase to complete the fleet. An order for additional F-35 aircraft or possibly a split fleet with a purchase of Gripen aircraft.

    1. I totally agree with the concept of splitting the procurement between the F-35 and Gripen

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