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Never mind the cost of the program, we are going to buy this fighter. Sole-sourcing isn't really the issue either, that decision was apparent years ago.

Combat aircraft development is expensive. Last time the US re-equipped its air forces, the result was the F-16 and the F-18. Canada bought the latter because of its dual engines. Both planes were the result of the same competition for a front-line air superiority fighter and ground attack aircraft.

At this time there is only one remaining fighter manufacturer left in the United States, Lockheed-Martin. Boeing lost both the F-22 and F-35 contracts and as a result is out of the race. The US doesn't have a second option for us this time, the US Navy is buying the F-35 too. Therefore an open competition is meaningless.

We could conceivably buy the Rafale from France, but we've never bought French fighters and it would run against the grain of 50 years of defence procurement policy.

Furthermore we have extensive defence-procurement agreements with the United States. Those agreements mean than Canadian companies can bid for US work so long as Canada purchases US equipment for our forces to balance out the trade as much as possible.

The bottom line is that we don't really have a choice in the matter. Policy, international relations and the lack of competitors mean that the F-35 is the only plane that will meet our requirements.

I know it's not really the point of the post, but I wonder who in the world (literally) they foresee using these planes to kill who couldn't be killed by some other cheaper means.

If you believe that fighter pilots have any utility whatsoever, then there is a relative supply situation where fighter pilots are needed more than surgeons.

Determinant, what would be wrong with buying F-16s or FA-18E/Fs? As far as I can tell, both of those platforms are available. Even if we grant the need to replace our CF-18s, it's not clear to me how the unproven, troubled, and massively expensive F-35 beats the alternatives. Theoretically it might have a few advantages, like low observability, but then again it has some definite disadvantages, like reduced payload and massively higher cost. (Admittedly I haven't seen a TCO comparison as opposed to just unit cost, which might level out the costs somewhat, but still.) Given that we're far more likely to use our airplanes as bomb trucks against barefooted guerrillas, rather than to fight World War III against the Russians, I am kind of at a loss to understand why we need to pay a massive premium for the latest space-age whiz-bang technology. It's like buying a $4,000 computer to check your e-mail with.

Mike, a good percentage of commercial pilots get their training through the military - this has been the case for many years, at least since my uncle used his Royal Air Force training to get a job flying with Air Canada in the 1960s. Basically it's extraordinary difficult to get the flight hours that you need to become a commercial pilot - you can pay a load of money to buy hours, work as a bush pilot up north, work in the military, or a combination of the above.

I don't think any occupation - flying a fighter pilot (possibly), surgery, or pro baseball - that offers good pay and/or security is exactly hurting for applicants these days...



The F-35 is the replacement for the F-16. The CF-18 was the competitor for the F-16. When the F-35 moves into production the F-16 line will likely be relegated to export and then shut down.

The Super Hornet is only used the US Navy and it's production is limited. It's also Boeing's only fighter. Manufacturer risk is significant.

Both are 4th Generation fighters while the F-35 is a fifth generation fighter.

We've also already spent millions on it as we signed up as a development partner. Essentially the USAF, US Navy, RAF and Royal Navy agreed to a single common fighter for their next-generation needs. The rest of the NATO signed up to the only show in town.

Aside from ground-attack mission in places like Afghanistan, we also need it to perform air interception over Canada and anti-ship missions out from the coast, along with the occasional bomb run like in Yugoslavia.

Look at it this way, we need this fighter to be going strong and be fully capable of technological upgrades in 2030. The F-35 is the only plane that offers that. All the weaponry after 2020 or so is going to be meant to be fitted to the F-35.

I'm thinking whether this explanation together with the absence of other reasons borders on treason

MacKay is not brilliant. I think Harper keeps him in cabinet only to please some of the non-Reform rump of the Conservative Party.

The question is whether or not you think Canada needs state-of-the-art fighter/bombers.

If all we're doing, war-wise, is killing Afghans or Sudanese or Somalis or whoever else among the world's poorest Muslims need to be slain in order for us to gallantly "liberate women," or keep the world safe for the Washington Consensus, or whatever else may be assigned to us as the global citizenship project of the day, then the answer would be that of course we don't need any F-35's.

Obsolete aircraft can slay illiterate shepherds at a much lower unit cost than F-35's.

Nor would we need F-35's to perform our token "sovereignty patrols" over our Arctic territorial claims. Other sorts of aircraft would be better suited for such missions.

F-35's might be worthwhile in a war against a minor regional power such as Iran, but in that sort of war, Canada would probably only serve as part of the "blue helmet clean-up crew," arriving well after the heavy US forces have done the main work of crushing resistance. Again, canada wouldn't need F-35's, unless for some reaons we were very keen to dispatch a "me-too" contingent for the sake of fully demonstrating our willingness to war.

Now serious geopolitical conflict with Russia, China, or India is by no means impossible in the future, but nevertheless unlikely. Would Canada's small airforce, even if fully modernized, make a meaningful difference in the scales of great power competition? Probably not.

e.g. I doubt that the prospect of Canadian belligerency would much deter China in the event of a Taiwan crisis.

So whatever the reasons for buying F-35's, they do not concern any of Canada's likely strategic needs.

Insitutional imperatives play a role. The air force and navy are becoming jealous of all the money and public attention the army has been getting during the past few years. The Conservatives have usually been a party willing to spend on the armed forces. Might as well spend now, before all the austerity budgets have to begin.

But even the institutional imperatives aren't enough to explain the matter.

It's ultimately about looking retaining goodwill with the USA and European allies. Being a team player and all that. I don't mean to disparage this sort of diplomacy; after all, maintaining goodwill with allies is important, even if it is peculiar that our country must buy weapons, less to fight its enemies, than to appease its friends.

In this way we also subsidize the American war effort by more widely distributing their design-and-development costs, and somewhat lowering the unit production cost. Thus the minor NATO countries like Canada can "do their bit" for the Empire.

It's really no different from a century ago, when Britain pressured the Dominions to chip in the price of a few extra dreadnoughts. At that time, Canada begged off, and bought some of our famous "tin pots" instead. Arguably, Canada had more geopolitical independence then than now.

"Given that we're far more likely to use our airplanes as bomb trucks against barefooted guerrillas, rather than to fight World War III against the Russians, I am kind of at a loss to understand why we need to pay a massive premium for the latest space-age whiz-bang technology. It's like buying a $4,000 computer to check your e-mail with."

But what if you don't know how you're going to use your computer in five years' time? Then it makes sense to buy a higher-end model just in case your needs change.

In any case, the question we should be asking is not "Why this computer?" but rather "Why a computer instead of a smartphone?" Or better yet, "Why $4000 worth of computer rather than a $2500 computer, a $500 smartphone, and a $1000 high-speed laser printer to replace your 2-year-old inkjet that prints one page a minute?"

The bottom line is that we have many kinds of military equipment that badly need upgrading, and I'm not hearing a good national security argument as to why we should prioritize planes in this way. I'm hearing a political argument from Determinant, but not a national security argument that explains why we should spend $9 billion on this particular mix of defence goods.

I think Francis hit the nail on the head, this in fact is a benefit because having a good program for recruiting and training good fighter pilots will produce a stream of graduates into the airlines. This is an investment in human capital.

It's not just that the RAF was a way into an Air Canada job, it's that the RAF graduates would be among the best pilots Air Canada could find (and one hopes the same would be true of the Canadian airforce).

My colleages father was an RAF pilot and then went to work for BA, BA also had a training program of its own. I'm told, and find it very easy to believe, that the BA trained pilots were the worst ones they had by far and the RAF graduates the best. Surely having the RAF to hire from was a great help to BA.

Australia recently bought super hornets, thought they're buying some F-35s later on.

Personally, I think we should be buying the F-35, but not this many. There may be cases where we'll need to send a dozen jets in the world to play our part, but I don't think we need this many. There are plenty of planes that we'd be able to use for patrols up north that are capable against Russian or possibly Chinese poking, like the Eurofighter, Saab Griphen, or super hornets.

This is probably more of a prestige thing. Harper's goal with the military is to have it "punch above our weight" like he perceives Australia or the UK doing. The Canadian forces were underfunded through the 90s (which was necessary as both the cold war ended and the deficit needed to be cut), but his base is rural and they support spending on the military. We'll no doubt be spending on Navy toys next.

So tools that protect our interests, protect the lives of our military personnel and protect our international commitments are toys?

How much is the value of one saved life? or one deterred engagement?

The argument is that these toys fail to protect our interests, or the lives of our military personnel or any real international commitment.

Just to make things perfectly clear.

To be sure, Mackay gives strange answers. (I'm assuming the reporter was competent and did not filter out anything.) I am not big on military spending. But if it was my job, I think I could come up with a better justification for having state of the art hardware.

Assuming we want a air force, it would be useful if they were experienced in flying advanced jets rather then ordinary ones. We pay these guys enough money, they better have the equipment and experience to earn their pay.

"I have trouble seeing how it's anything but a cost."
I realize you're trying to bait people here, Mike, but you really pulled this statement out of the blue.

Do you think Canada derived any benefit from providing military force in Afghanistan at any point?
Do you think Canada derived any benefit from providing military force in the liberation of Kuwait?
Do you think Canada derived any benefit from providing military force in the Korean War?
In short, can you think of any situation in which Canada has benefited from having an air force?

I'm just trying to figure out whether you think all military expenditure is always pure waste, or it only will be waste going forward, or what. I can't understand this from a utility-theory POV, since some Canadians seem to be keen to support the military even at personal cost. (Watched Don Cherry lately?) Or does your social utility function just exclude them?

We have to have interceptors, that is a basic sovereignty need. Whether over the North or over Toronto or over the Pacific. These planes will also fulfil any ground-attack need we have.

The F-35 is going to be the only model going after 2020 or so. The days of multi-source open competitions for military aircraft are over, even in the US. It's just too expensive to do anymore.

The F-35 IS the next generation. There isn't another model to compete against it. That's the truth as to why we are purchasing these planes.

The government cannot precisely articulate what it wants these planes to do. If it did, comparisons could be made and questions could be asked, and we could go about the task of buying new planes, if necessary, in a logical manner. But we are asked to believe that this new plane is like heaven-sent manna.

What happened to fiscal restraint? Shouldn't they be shopping for the best value planes that can do the job rather than the fanciest toy in the shop? $9 billion (or 15 billion which is another estimate I heard) is probably the equivalent of the amount spent by granting councils on science in Canada over 10-15 years. And what exactly will we get for this $9 billion? Will the military have to fill out progress reports on the "economic benefits" of the planes every year? Will thhey have to disclose how many new patents they got with these planes? No because there are no real 'deliverables', other than happy pilots.

"We have to have interceptors, that is a basic sovereignty need. Whether over the North or over Toronto or over the Pacific. These planes will also fulfil any ground-attack need we have.

The F-35 is going to be the only model going after 2020 or so."

There are 200 migrants headed to BC shores from Sri Lanka right now; what is the future plan: torpedo them from F-35? You don't need F-35s to scramble from Trenton to T.O. (200km away?); CF-18s can do the job It would be cheaper to build a dedicated airstrip or surface to air missiles or pay 1000 air marshals $50000 each. Y'know, one of our base commaders was drinking buddies with Paul Bernardo because we don't pay for screening. If Americans hit The Smoke we turn of the oil and electricty taps in a way no other nation can.
One University thinks they can do a Mars Rover for $30M with domestic job spinoffs (as opposed to funding the USA idiot military industrial complex). Why not just spread it out among all our Universities (I think UofT is 1st here followed by UofCgy)? I think we're still 3rd in space competancy despite only funding CSA $300M/yr and it would be nice to balancce out Russian, American and Chinese Star Wars ambitions...

There is undoubtedly some kind of quid pro quo going on with the deal. From Wikipedia:

"Canada has been involved in the Joint Strike Fighter Program [JSF = F-35] from its beginning, investing US$10 million to be an "informed partner" during the evaluation process. Once Lockheed Martin was selected as the primary contractor for the JSF program, Canada elected to become a level 3 participant along with Norway, Denmark, Turkey, and Australia on the JSF project. An additional US$100 million from the Canadian Department of National Defence (DND) over 10 years and another $50 million from Industry Canada were dedicated in 2002, making them an early participant of the JSF program.[166]
"As a result of the Canadian government investment in the JSF project, 144 contracts were awarded to Canadian companies, universities, and government facilities. Financially, the contracts are valued at US$490 million for the period 2002 to 2012, with an expected value of US$1.1 billion from current contracts in the period between 2013 and 2023, and a total potential estimated value of Canadian JSF involvement from US$4.8 billion to US$6.8 billion." http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lockheed_Martin_F-35_Lightning_II#Canada

If Canada wants its companies to be eligible for JSF contracts, I think Canada would have to buy its new fighters from that program. Given the potential value of Canadian JSF involvement, buying the F-35's makes economic sense.

Frances and Adam:

From what I have heard, there is no shortage of pilots. However, even if there were, this seems like a really strange way to deal with the problem: the government buys a bunch of crazy expensive equipment to attract people to learn a skill so that they can apply it to a private company. This isn't like other forms of education - the skills required to fly a plane are clear, and if the government should be involved in training, this is an incredibly inefficient way to go about it. If there aren't enough pilots due to incentives, the incentive response should be that the airlines increase salaries. If pilots need to be better, train them better to use the equipment they will be using, not to use a fighter jet.

I am all for spending by the government on education and training. But, this is not an example that makes a whole lot of sense.

Adam: I read Francis' comments differently. If I may liberally paraphrase: Flying is a life-style biz and so the demand to get in is great.

Translation: There is absolutely no need to have the latest and greatest equipment to attract pilots. (Even then the proposed capital spending versus salaries and benefits trade-off is absurd.)

"Do you think Canada derived any benefit from providing military force in Afghanistan at any point?
Do you think Canada derived any benefit from providing military force in the liberation of Kuwait?
Do you think Canada derived any benefit from providing military force in the Korean War?
In short, can you think of any situation in which Canada has benefited from having an air force?" -Simon van Norden

Yes to all those points. Canada is a member of NORAD and NATO. Canada is situated within the American nuclear umbrella. Among the obvious security benefits, those memberships allow us to carry relatively low defence burden given the amount of land and resources we have to protect.

I'll bet the Palestinians wish they had a stronger state and were members of an organization like NATO.

Participating in Afghanistan was necessary to preserve NATO. Remember that the US citizens were directly attacked on US soil. It is unfortunate that the hyper-vigilant hysteria lead the US to not just invade but occupy Afghanistan.

Bet we won't get the electronics source code either.

The logical defense solution for militarily weak countries, such as Canada, is to acquire a capability for nuclear retaliation.

Nuclear weapons are a splendid equalizer because they can negate the conventional military advantages possessed by wealthier or more populous countries.

For example, nuclear weapons are the obvious defense solution for a country like Taiwan.

And if Kuwait in 1990 had possessed even a handful of deliverable low-yield warheads, Iraq would never have invaded in the first place.

I wonder whether the sums we lavish on puny numbers of conventional weapons such as the F-35 would be better spent on pursuing some worthwhile Canadian proliferation instead.

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