CPAC Special 04/20/2011
Canada needs a new fleet of fighter jets to replace the decades’ old CF-18s, but which aircraft at what cost? The government has already decided that the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is the only one that can meet the military’s needs. The opposition is fighting the purchase because it’s being made without a competition from aircraft makers. When completed the acquisition will be the largest military equipment purchase in Canadian history.
Respected military journalist Scott Taylor will hear from all sides of the debate and gets exclusive access to some of the most advanced aerial fighter machines on the planet as he examines F-35: The Politics of Procurement.
SCOTT TAYLOR LOOKS AT THE F-35
To buy or not to buy?
For Canadian defence, this has been key procurement question over the past year. And it’s caused a political firestorm on Parliament Hill and along the campaign trail.
The F-35 Lightning II has been tabbed as the next-generation fighter of choice by Canada, the United States, and a host of other Western nations. Canada pledged last July to buy 65 jets to replace the military’s CF-18 fleet, but has not signed a formal contract with Lockheed Martin.
Opposition parties have lambasted the decision to sole-source a multi-billion deal without an open competition. A parade of ministers, bureaucrats, and military experts went before parliamentary committees this winter to justify or condemn the plan.
Scott Taylor, publisher of Esprit de Corps magazine and a noted military journalist, has returned to CPAC with a documentary that explores the procurement process and the arguments for and against moving forward with the F-35 program.
In F-35: The Politics of Procurement, supporters point to the jet’s superior stealth capability. Skeptics wonder why Canadian national security requires such a fighter.
Taylor also provides an exclusive tour of Lockheed Martin’s main plant in Fort Worth, Texas – including a close-up view of an F-35 Lightning II with the chief test pilot. And he visits Boeing’s St. Louis facility to see the competing Super Hornet design.
The price tag on the F-35 purchase remains the major point of contention. The Department of National Defence has forecast a total cost of $16 to $18 billion for the 65 jets, which would begin arriving in 2016.
The cost estimate per plane in July 2010 was $75 million. This spring the U.S. Government Accountability Office put the figure at $110 to $115 million. And Canada’s parliamentary budget officer has forecast a cost of between $148 and $163 million.
In the United States, President Barack Obama has asked the Pentagon to cut $400 billion over the next 13 years. The Pentagon may reduce its F-35 order as a consequence, according to reports.
Questions also remain about how many F-35s the British will buy, as the Cameron government commits to greater fiscal austerity. Other JSF partners have delayed a final decision.
The fewer jets purchased, the higher cost per plane for other JSF nations, according to Taylor.
Stephen Harper, Peter MacKay, and other Conservatives have pointed to Canada’s nearly 15-year participation in the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) program, which began under Jean Chrétien’s Liberal government. Lockheed Martin and Boeing competed for the right to develop the new fighter for participating countries: Canada, United States, United Kingdom, Netherlands, Italy, Turkey, Denmark, Norway, and Australia).
American and Britain experts selected the former’s prototype in 2001. Canada, which signed a memorandum of understanding has contributed more than $200 million to the design and production process, according to the Department of National Defence.
The Conservatives remain committed to the program, arguing in their election platform that: “it was and is the best option for Canada.” They also point to the spinoff benefits for Canada’s aerospace industry.
Harper has said increasing production costs in the United States will not affect Canada’s purchase price.
Meanwhile, the Liberals have promised to cancel the purchase and hold an open competition. Michael Ignatieff has said the F-35’s rising costs would cut into future government spending on health care.
The NDP would also halt the process and review the F-35 as part of a defence policy review.