Our Liberal government under Jean Chrétien decided some 13 years ago to select an airplane to replace our CF-18 fleet. Back in 1997, the Liberals believed the right way to go about this massive expenditure was to participate in a U.S.-led three-phase process known as the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) Program, for which participation Canada anteed up $10-million.
During the initial “Concept Demonstration Phase” of the JSF, two bidders, Boeing and Lockheed Martin, were selected to develop competitive bids, and this process led to the selection in 2001 of Lockheed Martin as the JSF manufacturer. And, in 2002, the Chrétien Liberals reinforced their commitment to acquire the result of the JSF Program by anteing up another $150-million for the “System Development and Demonstration Phase” which involved developing and testing the aircraft systems and components to be used.
Remember the Sea King:
They were purchased in 1963 and are now called “flying coffins.” Canada’s Sea King helicopters are a dying fleet, literally falling out of the skies. Those still in operation experience stalling engines, generator failures and gearbox problems. Pilots have died flying them.
The Sea Kings were supposed to have been retired by 2000. But under the Liberals our military had to make do and keep them flying. They now require 30 hours of maintenance for every hour of flight, and they are unavailable for operations 40 per cent of the time.
The Sea Kings are the most prominent symbol of the Liberals’ lack of military commitment. But not the only one, for throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Canada’s ability to contribute to international missions, including peace keeping operations, were significantly hampered by aging equipment.
Thank you, former Prime Minister Jean Chrétien and the Liberal Party of Canada.
Is it even conceivable that the Liberals made this commitment without our military knowing what sort of fighter jet it needed?
In December 2006, under a Conservative government, Canada signed the “JSF Production, Sustainment and Follow-on Development” Memorandum of Understanding (MOU). The cost for Canada to participate in this phase is approximately U.S.$551 million over the course of the 2007-2051 timeframe.
The result of this long-term process has been a fifth generation fighter dubbed the F-35 Lightning II, which the current Stephen Harper government believes fulfills the promise of the JSF program launched by the Liberals in 1997. And in July 2010, our government ordered 65 of these jets to replace our fourth generation fleet of CF-18s. The CF-18s are expected to reach the end of their operational life in the 2017-2020 timeframe. Delivery of the new CF-35 aircraft is expected to start in 2016—i.e., just in time.
But the duplicitous Liberal opposition led by the ineffectual Michael Ignatieff now claim we really don’t know what plane we need and we should launch a new competitive bid. Some opposition members even question the need for any new plane or, at least, a fifth generation, stealth model. I’m not kidding, they do.
Canada started acquiring CF-18s in 1982, 28 years ago. The fleet was upgraded over the years—significantly in 1998 when Canada launched a 10-year, $1.2-billion upgrade program to extend their operational life to the year 2017. The modernization program was in addition to a major overhaul of the CF-18 fuselage bulkheads, which in 1998 were discovered to have cracks earlier than forecast.
By 2017, these will be very dated aircraft.
It has taken us 13 years to reach the point of being able to place an order for the airplanes. Projecting forward, starting a new process would take us to 2023 and several years beyond that to take delivery of combat-ready fighters. The CF-18s won’t last that long.
So are there any other fifth generation airplanes available to us for delivery in the next six or seven years? No. The Americans have the only combat-ready fifth generation fighter, the enormously expensive, state-of-the-art Lockheed Martin/Boeing F-22 Raptor, which they refuse to let us (or anyone else) have, even if we wanted it.
Boeing, BAE Systems and Saab Aerospace have been trying to market their aircraft to Canada. Over the last several months the firms have made presentations or provided information to our Defence Department. Boeing is offering Canada the F-18 Super Hornet, BAE is marketing the Eurofighter Typhoon and Saab is highlighting the Gripen. All are advanced fighter jets and would likely exceed the capabilities of our current CF-18s, but nothing that will touch the fifth generation F-35 Lightning II, let alone the Americans’ coveted F-22 Raptor. If we buy one of these 4+ generation fighters, we’ll be short-changing our air force for decades to come, but the Liberals and New Democrats don’t mind doing that, it’s in their nature.
India, China and Russia have fifth generation fighters in development, but only Russia has one likely to be combat-ready in time to meet our needs. Does the opposition suggest we throw our lot in with one of them—perhaps the Russians—and tell our NORAD and NATO allies to go take a hike?
Seriously though, if Boeing, BAE Systems and Saab Aerospace had true competitors of the F-35 Lightning II, far fewer NATO and other allies would be lined up to buy the F-35s. But why would the Liberals care about that?
Many readers will remember how under-equipped our soldiers were when first they were deployed by the Chrétien Liberal government to fight a ferocious and determined enemy in Afghanistan. The Canadian contingent lacked large transport aircraft, heavy-lift helicopters, armored transport trucks, battle tanks, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), artillery guns, and mine-resistant armoured personnel carriers—all of which were essential to a successful mission.
Notwithstanding these glaring gaps in their equipment and armour, a Liberal government sent Canadian soldiers off to a foreign land to be killed and maimed—an unforgivably careless disregard for the lives and safety of our men and women.
If we allow the Liberals to do so, they’ll short-change our military again and again and again.
I hope on this Remembrance Day, our leaders in Ottawa will remember also those who will fight our future wars.