Saturday, 24 November 2012

Fighter Purchase Review--The F-35 Purchase Must Justify Itself

Finally, some positive steps to resolve the scandal attending the order of F-35 Fighter Jets for the RCAF. There is more background on it here.

At first, things did not look good. After the Auditor-General criticized the purchase, the government defended it. More bad publicity led to the creation of a Commons Committee to consider what to do, but the Committee's name, according to some, showed that its conclusion was foregone, and perhaps forgone*: After all, why name it the "F-35 Secretariat" if it could choose any plane other than an F-35? More bad press, and it was renamed the "National Fighter Procurement Secretariat." Then the Conservatives tried to make its meetings secret. And rush its conclusions.

Now the CBC has an article on the next turn of the worm, turn of the screw, turn of events, titled "Canada to consult allies, competitors to replace CF-18s." Here is the key section:
The agency overseeing the replacement of the country's CF-18s intends to talk to the U.S., Australia and Britain as it conducts a wide-ranging analysis into the future of Canada's fast fighter fleet, defence sources tell The Canadian Press.
That review, which will also include consultation with competitors to the oft-maligned F-35 stealth fighter, will get underway soon and could last several months.
In the House of Commons this week, Public Works Minister Rona Ambrose said that the air force's statement of requirements — the document that set out what the military says it needs for selected pieces of equipment — will be set aside until an options analysis is completed.
"The options' analysis is a full evaluation of choices, not simply a refresh of the work that was done before," Ambrose told the House of Commons. "That review of options will not be constrained by the previous statement of requirements."
The process usually happens in reverse. The military defines what it needs and then, in conjunction with public works, conducts an analysis of what is out there and how the capability can be filled.
The decision to restart the purchase process is a change from the government's previous vigorous defence of the process and the decision. However reluctantly, it has made the right decision. The decision to talk to Australia is especially interesting. That country has reacted to the delays in producing its F-35's by buying a number of Boeing F-18 "Super Hornets" as well. Canada, of course, has had decades of experience flying F-18's, and the Super Hornet is a substantial and logical upgrade to those planes.

*forgone, meaning done without; foregone, meaning preceding. "A foregone conclusion" is one that is predetermined, but in this case "a forgone conclusion" would be one that is never made.

UPDATE, 1 December 2012: The new Chief of the Defence Staff,  Gen. Tom Lawson, told the Commons Defence Committee that the F-35 is not the only plane that can meet the military's need for stealth. In this, he seems to be contradicting the Defence Minister, Peter MacKay. Here's the meat taken from the CBC story on this:
The military's original statement of requirements for the purchase included some level of stealth capability, but not a particular, "necessary" element of stealth, Lawson said.

Lawson said that while other fighter jets offer an "element" of stealth capability, the F-35 is "better."

But when asked by Liberal defence critic John McKay whether there is only one airplane that can meet the standard of stealth set out in the Canadian military's requirements, Lawson said "no."

"All options are on the table," Lawson told MPs.
I used to live in the Yukon, and remember how the thick sheet of ice that covers the Yukon River during the winter would start to show cracks before breaking up. Hearing General Lawson's words feels similar to seeing cracks in the ice.

UPDATE, 13 December 2012: The government is re-opening the F-35 purchase decision. All options, it says, are on the table.
Officials also said that all fighter jets currently in production or scheduled to be in production will be considered to replace the CF-18s. That includes the Eurofighter Typhoon, the Boeing Super Hornet and others.
The CBC also has an editorial explaining how the high cost of each F-35, coupled with American pressure to buy it, is actually weakening Western defence.

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