Diversification and the Joint Strike Fighter

Just in case you have been stuck in an “Encino Man-esque” state, the Government of Canada announced in July of 2010 its plan to procure sixty-five Lockheed Martin F-35 Lighting II fighter jets (the Joint Strike Fighter, or simply JSF).  Projected to enter service around 2017, the JSF will replace the Royal Canadian Air Force’s existing seventy-seven McDonnell Douglas CF-18 Hornets.  The Government has estimated the entire procurement and twenty-year maintenance of the fighters at around $16 billion, which has been a very difficult pill for many taxpayers to swallow during a period of uncertain economic stability.

The Joint Strike Fighter continues to make international headlines.   In the first instance, the Government of Norway announced last week that it would budget over $40 billion to procure and maintain fifty-two JSFs over a thirty-year period.   Currency conversion, inflation, and different weapons aside, Canada’s math appears to stink.  More so, as the Parliamentary Budget Officer argued last spring that the JSF will cost Canada closer to $30 billion over a thirty year period.  Second, it was announced that the current limited production of the F-35 will be reduced in order to correct minor defects in the air frame that were discovered as a result of purposeful “fatigue testing” of the design.  Associate Defence Minister Fantino argues this will have little impact on the Canadian procurement, as the Government is expected to introduce the fighter incrementally in small batches.  Third, and finally, there remains speculation that the entire project may be cancelled.  The United States is looking to make defence cuts as part of larger austerity measures.  Senator John McCain, who sits on the Senate Armed Service Committee, has consistently questioned the almost $1 trillion in research and development that has result in only twenty some odd fighters actually being produced.

I don’t question the “Ted Danson” (obscure Seinfeld reference) ability of the JSF, but I do wonder whether this is the right next generation fighter jet for Canada.  Landing strips in the Canadian Arctic are too short to land the plane.  But, the addition of a drag chute, which would make shorter landings possible, will compromise the stealth nature of the fighter.  The JSF’s current communications package means it cannot communicate with ground troops with potentially dangerous implications (wiki “Tarnak Farm Incident”).  Also, there is an issue with the JSF’s mid-air refueling nozzle.   It is different than the current Canadian one, meaning Canada will either have to buy new air-tankers, use external fuel tanks, or engineer the old nozzle to fit onto the JSF.   Yet once again, the last two refueling options mean changes to the plane’s design, meaning even the most minor of fine-tuning of the JSF for Canadian requirements could compromise its stealth ability.

I don’t think Canada has learned from its previous procurement fiascos.  Anyone remember the Avro Arrow?  In 1957, Canada built the world’s most modern and first all weather interceptor.  It was pretty much the F-35 of its day… very Ted Danson. Yet, Prime Minister Diefenbaker made the correct call to cancel the fighter before it went into production.  Like most high-tech gear the price had drastically escalated from $2 million to $12 million per jet.   This is the equivalent of today’s (not initial) price tag of the JSF jumping from $75 -150 million per unit price to $450-900 million!  Canada had originally only planned to build the Avro frame, with the weapons, radar, and engines to be imported from either the States or UK.  The point being, when you deal with ‘high-tech’ state of the art technology (meaning “Ted Danson,” just in case you are not with me), it must be expected that today’s pricing will not reflect tomorrow’s production costs.  These fighters are going to cost more than we presently expect, despite whatever the Government of Canada tells us.  Second, look at the Victoria-class submarine.  Canada bought four used subs from the UK, but decided to gut the UK designed boats to make them acceptable to Canadian standards (electrical and weapons systems.)  Although the last boat came to Canada almost ten years ago, no sub has ever fired an actual torpedo and the subs spend more time in drydock then on actual patrol.  When we buy foreign, even if the JSF project is part of a multinational endeavor, we cannot change, tweak, poke, alter, amend, or otherwise revise particular systems in order to make the item more “Canadian,” and expect everything thing else to work perfectly (Read: Stealth).

So I guess the question is, why do we need this particular plane?  Both DND and the Government will tell you we need the JSF to intercept Soviet-era bombers from flying over the North Pole and invading Canadian air space.  So Canada basically needs the JSF to interdict bombers in the Arctic even though we will be required to modify it for Arctic operations and there clearly exist better planes on the market for conducting long-range operations.  This seems to me a somewhat strange justification.  Although the planes are stealthy, they cannot get into the Arctic to interdict any ‘evil doers’. Furthermore, ancient Russian bombers remain a greater threat to themselves, than to Canadian airspace.  I do believe it is necessary to prevent unwanted intrusions of Canadian airspace, but it seems to me a big waste of technology.  The Russians fully expect Canadian resistance.  That’s how this air-based game of chicken is played: they try to sneak in, and we prevent them from doing so.

Instead, I believe the true value of the F-35 will be for expeditionary operations, like with the example of CF-18 participation in Gulf War I and more recently in Libya.  In an offensive role, stealth will increase the survivability of the plane in actual hostile situations. Within a multinational framework, refueling issues would not become a major problem through the use of regional basing.

Canada has always employed its military within an integrated multi-national framework.  In the First and Second World War, the Canadian Army adopted the British kit while operating within a larger British command structure.  When the 6th Canadian Infantry Division prepared for Pacific operations in 1945, it discarded British equipment and adopted an American kit because it was expecting to operate under American command and logistics.  If Canada desires to continue its participation in coercion operations, upholding collective security, and earning a seat at the World stage, it will always be required to have the proper toys to do so.   I certainly feel this is the intent of our present Government.  It has realized that if Canada wants a say in global politics, it must pay the price of admission.  If the US buys the F-35, Canada should too, so it can interoperate effortlessly with the USAF and other NATO countries in overseas operations.  Although the US may go to war without Canada (Gulf War II), I strongly doubt Canada would ever go to war, or engage in collective security, without the support of the US.

Then how should we solve the dilemma I raised? How should Canada’s fighter force be constituted?  It seems all too easy to me.  Canada should develop a mixed fighter air force.  We should procure fewer JSFs, say somewhere in the range of eighteen, for expeditionary operations.   Given the needs of training, maintenance, and attrition, this should facilitate a nationally representative Canadian commitment for overseas operations within a larger multinational framework.  It may result in a higher per unit cost, but it also protects Canada from counting its chickens (JSF) before the eggs hatch (production). Ultimately, I do not really care how many are bought for expeditionary needs – leave that to DND – but it should be way less than the present sixty-five fighters.  By prioritizing the JSF for expeditionary operations, it will also avoid many of the issues surrounding Canada’s domestic and continental air-interdiction needs.  Mainly, that stealth fighter technology, at least in its present form, does not bode well with long-range operations.  Instead, Canada should look for a different, and proven, fighter that has long-range abilities to meet it domestic needs.  Any opinions on which exact fighter are duly welcome.  Nonetheless, this would not prevent the proposed other fighter from participating in overseas operations, nor does it exclude the F-35 from domestic use.  It just gives Canada more options for exercising its national air power.

Importantly, this idea is not new.  Prior to the CF-18, Canada did have two different fighters.  For domestic use, Canada operated the MacDonnell CF-101 Voodoo.  It was purposely designed in the 1950s for meeting the requirements of North American Air Defense Command (today’s North American Aerospace Command).  Meanwhile in Europe, the RCAF used the Canadair (Lockheed) CF-104 Starfighter.  Operating from 1961 to 1987, the Starfighter was used within a NATO framework, and was tasked for high-speed strike and deep reconnaissance operations.  This was simply jargon for dropping nukes (yes, we did have them both domestically and internationally until the 1980s) deep behind enemy lines.

Any thoughts?

Seahorne, out.


Strategy, Security, and Defence Conference


The deadline for submissions to the 14th Annual Graduate Strategic Studies Conference is this Monday, 12 December 2011.

This conference will take place on Friday-Saturday, 10-11 February 2012 at the University of Calgary.

While it is termed a “graduate” student conference, we are more than happy to receive submissions from undergraduate students as well, on any topic related to strategy, security, or defence. Paper topics can include, but are not limited to: Canadian military and security, irregular warfare, geopolitical issues, intelligence, military history, peace building, human security, environmental security, strategic thought, emerging threats, or terrorism.

Entries should include: contact information, a short biography, and a 250-word abstract.

Please email all submissions to info@strategyconference.ca.

If you have any questions, please contact the conference committee at the email address above or visit www.strategyconference.ca.

You might be a grad student if…

In the tradition of “you might be a redneck if…”, made famous by Jeff Foxworthy, this blog is dedicated to all of the crazy quirks that make grad students as special as they are.

You might be a grad student if…

Everything reminds you of something related to your thesis.

You can tell the time of day by observing the traffic flow through the library.

Professors have stopped caring about when your papers will actually be turned in.

The first thing you do when you walk into someone’s home is check out their bookshelf.

You look forward to the summer because campus will be quieter and you can get more work done without the distraction of other students.

Guilt has become an intrinsic feature of relaxation.

You look forward to getting some time off… to do laundry or buy groceries.

Your study space has more (and better) decoration than your apartment.

Your heart longs for the day when you can “read for fun” again. You have a list of fiction already all lined up.

Your worldview is shaken when you meet people who neither want nor need to read.

Caffeine has become a major food group.

You know that, at any moment, someone is going to realize that you really aren’t supposed to be here. They let you in by mistake.

You have a favourite grammar rule.

You no longer differentiate between the week and the weekend. TGIF has lost all meaning.

It has become commonplace to spend Friday or Saturday night studying… or (the horror) both.

You have brought books with you on vacation… and actually studied.

All of your dreams and nightmares have begun to star your fellow grad students and/or your professors.

You schedule big events around academic breaks so that your friends can come.

Cooking and cleaning are synonymous with “break time from studying”.

You have begun to cite sources… during conversation.

Someone mentions that there is leftover food and your first instinct is to run for it… followed by all the other grad students nearby. If there is booze involved you’re going to be the first one there.

Spring Break is the perfect opportunity to get more studying done.

Your response to everything has become: “I just have one more book to read and then I’ll start writing”.

Your glasses prescription is 2x stronger than it was a year ago.

Security has caught you hunkered down in the library after hours… numerous times.

You have an academic book that you think is super cool because the author signed it for you.

You plan to spend every minute of the next six months working on your thesis, but you’re not entirely sure what you are going to do with the rest of your life.

The law if necessary, but not necessarily the law

Canada has always been forced to walk a knife edge when dealing with the legal issues of French language rights. However, when does the extent of our considerations go too far?

By law, French is an official language on par with English and must be supported by Federal Government institutions, including police agencies, in the application of the law. This is something that the RCMP has long recognized and that has long been evident in the agency’s actions.

This mandate is now being handed down to city police in New Brunswick, Canada’s only official bilingual province. The precedent was set with the recent New Brunswick court of appeals ruling, which upheld the acquittal of Serge Alain Losier on drunk driving charges. The justification given was the violation of the accused’s language rights.

 “Losier was arrested Sept. 4, 2008, by a Fredericton police officer after being stopped at a checkpoint. The arresting officer did not speak French, and Losier’s English skills were poor.”

Is this not going too far in consideration of language rights? Regardless of the language you speak, drunk driving is against Canadian law. Whether you understand the officer arresting you or not does not change whether you have broken the law. Where do we draw the boundary between upholding one law respecting the civil rights of French Canadians, and the other law protecting the lives and security of every Canadian?

Had this been a debate over not receiving service in French at a government office – or even in Losier’s court hearing – I could understand the ire it would raise in French Canadians. But the nature of the crime and the harm Losier’s actions could have had on the general public should negate the necessity of respecting his language rights at the time of the arrest.

How does society stand to benefit from upholding the acquittal on these grounds and furthering such a dangerous precedent? Whether it is drunk driving or drug or weapons trafficking, the law is the law in Canada and all citizens are obligated to know when they are in violation of it. Civil rights and legal loopholes should not provide people with a shield to hide behind.

Matt Sutherland (MSS Student)