The F-35 for Canada?

David Pugliese, writing in the Ottawa Citizen, says that “On Aug. 30, the United Kingdom’s Ministry of Defence and Airbus Defence and Space informed the Canadian government of their decision to withdraw from Canada’s future fighter competition. Airbus had been offering Canada the Eurofighter … [and] … At the time the Canadian Press news service reported the Eurofighter withdrawal was a surprise … [but, Mr Pugliese says] … It wasn’t … [because] … For the last nine months the various competing firms, Boeing, Airbus and Saab have been sounding the alarm about how the fighter jet process is structured and their worry that it is stacked in favour of the Lockheed Martin F-35. The RCAF, which originally selected the F-35 as the CF-18 replacement before that selection was put on hold by the previous Conservative government because of cost and technical issues, came up with the new requirements. Industry representatives say these requirements highlight the strengths of the F-35 such as stealth and a first strike capability.

Mr Pugliese says that “The primary role of the new fighter jets is to protect North America, or so government officials have said. Lockheed Martin’s industry rivals question how stealth and a first strike capability fit into that role.” That assertion is, probably, based on this:

Screen Shot 2019-09-26 at 06.34.07

It is from Chapter 5 of the Liberal campaign platform in 2015 (page 70) but, on the same page, the Liberals also said that their policy is that:

Screen Shot 2019-09-26 at 06.37.10

A “combat capability” might be last on the list, but it is still there, and the current (Trudeau Liberal) defence policy statement, Strong, Secure, Engaged, says (page 38) that “Military threats across a range of systems such as advanced fighters and anti-access area denial (A2AD) surface-to-air missile systems, in addition to evolving cyber threats, are making the environment within which the Canadian Armed Forces operates more lethal and complex. As such, the Canadian Armed Forces requires a fighter fleet that is capable, upgradeable, resilient and interoperable with our allies and partners to ensure Canada continues to meet its NORAD and NATO commitments in the future. The fighter aircraft fleet is a critical Canadian Armed Forces capability necessary to enforce Canada’s sovereignty, enable continental security, and contribute to international peace and stability … [and] … In addition to the quality of the fighter capability required, the Royal Canadian Air Force requires sufficient numbers of fighter aircraft to ensure control of Canada’s vast airspace, while maintaining an ability to simultaneously contribute to international operations, conduct pilot training, and to allow for maintenance and repair. The fleet size of 88 fighter aircraft will provide the necessary number of aircraft to fulfill Canada’s commitments, including maintenance and readiness training.” No matter how some political operators may have tried to edit it out, a broad range of combat capabilities ~ that what phrases like “contribute to international peace and stability,” and “contribute to international operations” mean ~ is official government policy. It’s an operational requirement. When the senior officials in the procurement department (Public Services and Procurement Canada) write a request for proposal (RFP) (and companies will have to spend tens of millions of dollars just to write their proposals) they consult with senior defence officials and military officers to put the various and sundry operational requirements in some sort of sensible order. It ought not to be surprising that to learn that, unlike politicians on the campaign trail, government bureaucrats and military officers put a lot of thought into what is most important and what is least. They do risk analyses and they use sophisticated computer simulations to “game” various scenarios and I, for one, am not surprised that being able to survive a “first strike” (attack a defended target) mission might be higher up the list than just flying an intercept mission in Canadian airspace.

The fact is that the government said, explicitly, that it wants a multi-role aircraft and while stealth and a first-strike capability may not be high on the list of requirements for the NORAD role they are, most likely, a very high priority requirement for other roles. My guess is that Boeing, which is offering the venerable F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and Saab which proposes its F-39E/F Gripen may have concluded before the competition even begins, that Lockheed-Martin‘s F-35 Lightning II is the aircraft most likely to win the “fair and open” competition. My guess is that’s why France and Airbus/UK Ministry of Defence pulled the Rafale and Eurofighter Typhoon out the bidding.

David Pugliese concludes that “It is still unclear, however, whether Boeing or Saab will even continue in the competition … [but] … Bids must be submitted by the spring of 2020 but there is a growing sense among the defence industry that the F-35 will ultimately be selected as the new aircraft for the RCAF.

I have said, over and over again, that I don’t know which aircraft is “best” for Canada. No one does ~ not the prime minister, not the chief of the defence staff … no-one. A team of engineers, accountants and other experts will analyze bids against published criteria and select the “best” (or least “worst”) of the choice and they will recommend that choice to the cabinet. The cabinet, for maybe just the Prime Minister’s Office, will decide which aircraft Canad will buy and how many we will get.

6 thoughts on “The F-35 for Canada?

  1. We didn’t purchase the most capable jet last time and bought the CF 18 instead, it served us well, maybe a little to long. I’m hoping we purchase 50-60 Gripen, maybe assemble them in Canada along with building some parts. After that if we feel we need some first strike jets we could get some F35s. It’s not just the price of the jet, we have to be able to afford to fly it also. This might just keep us in the F35 procurement chain as well.

  2. As Canada is one of the last countries among our association of military allies, to decide on a fleet of future fighters, the parameters guiding the choices are changing. It is becoming less about the aircraft itself and more about Canada’s future position / influence among our allies. We can issue all the defence papers that we deem necessary, but our military allies may be less convinced of our commitment. At this point in time there are still multiple aircraft in the competition, but take a minute to consider the long term ramifications of any potential winner.

    The Super Hornet. Well past its best before date. Boeing will likely offer a very attractive package on this aircraft. It could be on the flight line in a relatively short timeline and possibly the easiest aircraft selection to transition in to the current fleet. At the time the aircraft is up to full strength (8-12 years) Canada could be the only non-American operator of the Super Hornet. By the time the aircraft is ready for a midlife upgrade (+/-25 years) Canada could be the only operator. Potentially a very expensive situation to be in.

    The Gripen NG may be an interesting option. Modern, inexpensive, and very likely assembled in Canada. Definatley tailored to Northern operations and it would give Canada an ability to control our own agenda that we have lacked for many years. The downside is that we would be in a stand alone position for many scenarios involving our military allies. All of our military allies have at least some, if not all, their aircraft fleet as the F-35. In addition any future upgrades that our allies acquire may not fit on / or in our unique airframe. If Canada wishes to protect our airspace and not much else the Gripen NG may be the perfect fit. If we want our military allies, potential adversaries, to take us seriously we need at least a couple of squadrons of F-35 to complement the Gripen fleet.

    The F-35, love it or hate it is no longer the only question. Potentially our military allies have already made the choice for us. Yes we always have the option to make our own sovereign choice, but there are other parameters to consider. Our military allies have already faced the same fighter fleet dilemma as Canada and have made their choice for the F-35. Do we really want to go it alone on an acquisition that will set the direction of our fighter fleet for the next 40 – 50 years.

  3. Curiously the “UK” decision to withdraw the “Airbus” submission occurred after Boris Johnson had replaced Theresa May as Prime Minister.

    Johnson had and has a different agenda than May and is much more Bristol than London. He looks westward, not east.

    Airbus is the EU answer. Lockheed is, obvs, American.

    Boris is not interested in antagonizing America. Quite happy to continue one fight against the EU.

  4. I’ve found a use for the F-35 in regards to automation risks. Previously I was worried it turned to slow to engage multiple drones and its code might be hackable. If 4 F-35 engage 6 drones and some of the drones are outside of 30 degrees stealth angle, an F-35’s stealth can be “enfiladed”.
    The answer is to position the F-35 in the far distance, emitting a powerful radar or a quantum radar (and utilizing other detector processes too); very few weapons on board. Have the missiles on the ground, ice or ocean. The missiles that are to fire upon drones are cheaply modified passive homing sounding rockets. A N.D.-like rocket grid covering Earth’s machine shops and future 3d printers. Quantum radar (model A) can paint insect drones for the $5000 sounding rockets, now we are winning the cost equation for a while. Active radar (B) in the the refurbished F-35s can also be moved closer to detect insect swarms unless the insects use radical weaponry.
    The communication is underground optical from each sounding rocket site to an optical uplink below the fighter jet so as to avoid directional optical hacking.
    I still prefer VTOL, but utilized as such, we win aerial superiority with sounding rockets directed by two new radar F-35 models.

  5. …meant expensive Q-Radar for regular sized threats. Insects will be an IP issue soon enough. Low bandwidth optical seems useful to avoid side-channel hacking and high bandwidth might let an virus or AI quickly copy itself. To stop an aeroplane space launch might require rail gun launched fighter jets with lasers. In any event, you want to hit machine shops and 3d printers that workers fail to deactivate. Powerful software has an analogy to the human condition: I can be turned off and I am like metal and they are not.

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