The Canadian government has finally announced it plans to spend $9 billion on the purchase of 65 new fighter jets made by Lockheed Martin, the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter. A related maintenance contract will likely bring the full cost to about $18 billion. The new stealth, multi-role fighter jets—which are expected to be the next-generation warplane for all NATO member air forces for the next several decades—will replace a fleet of aging, but recently upgraded, CF-18s.
“We have to have fighter jets. Canada is a massive country, and when you think purely about response times, there is nothing else that can get across the country as fast as a fighter jet.
“Also, when you are dealing with the Arctic, there is very little that has the kind of survivability of a fighter jet in the air under those kinds of harsh conditions.
“Everybody else is updating their fighter jets, and there simply hasn’t been a technology developed that can replace it at this point.”
– Mercedes Stephenson
It is curious that our intrepid leader of the official opposition, Michael Ignatieff, is criticizing the choice of this airplane when it was a previous Liberal government headed by his mentor, Jean Chrétien, that originally signed the deal for the F-35 fighters to replace the CF-18s. Under then prime minister Chrétien, the Liberal government signed a memorandum of understanding with Lockheed Martin to develop the Joint Strike Fighter. And in February 2002, former defence minister Art Eggleton signed a deal in Washington with former U.S. defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld that ensured Canada would be a partner in the joint strike force.
While it may be worth having a debate over the dangers of sole-source military contracts, it’s a bit rich to hear Liberal critics attack the Conservative government for completing a procurement process they themselves started over a decade ago. And, it’s worth recalling that the last time a Liberal government reneged on a major military contract it cost us about a billion dollars to cancel that agreement. Our navy has still to recover from that disastrous decision by Jean Chrétien—motivated by crass politics.
But, of course, Ignatieff wouldn’t know any of this as he lived abroad in those days.
Canada has been a partner in the Joint Strike Fighter process since 1997—long before the Lockheed Martin Corp. won the bid. And although Canada was among the first of America’s allies to sign on to the research and development of the fighter, it isn’t the only ally to do so. Britain invested 10 times more than Canada did to take part in the process, and was rewarded with share of the contract. Australia, Denmark, Netherlands, Norway, Italy and Turkey are also on board with the program. The reason the F-35 is popular with so many nations is the enhanced effect and potential cost savings of having allies share similar equipment.
Nearly 100 Canadian companies and thousands of technology jobs with ties to the Joint Strike Fighter program are expected to benefit from the federal government’s decision to buy U.S.-built warplanes.