After a meeting on Apr 11, 2011, I was taking a coffee-break in the By Ward Market when I took this photo of the Department of National Defence DND headquarters (the far building in the centre). Just like the weather pattern depicted in the photo, there is a storm brewing in Ottawa over the government's decision to spend some CAD $9.7 billion to purchase 65 CF-35 joint-strike fighter jets from the US and another $19.6 billion to maintain them over 30 years.
Even before the writ was dropped and federal election called, many critics have concerns over the Conservative Govt's spending priorities in general, and the huge price tag of the jets in particular. One ex-ADM (assistant deputy minister) of DND Alan Williams was quoted as saying the actual cost could be much higher, given the expected high maintenance (specialized hi-tech parts and labours) cost of these sophisticated, state-of-the-art aircraft. News media also reported that the govt might have low-balled the price tag. According to CBC News/Powers and Politics, there is a gap of CAD$11.7 billion from two official estimates from Parliament Hill:
Conservative Government: The Government estimates that the total acquisition and maintenance cost will be approx CAD$17.6 billion over 30 years for the 65 CF-35 fighter jets
Parliamentary Budget Office: Parliamentary budget officer Kevin Page estimates in the March 10, 2011 report that the acquisition cost for the fleet is approx CAD$9.7 billion and the ongoing sustainment cost for it at $19.6 billion, for a total of CAD$29.3 billion.
The sustainment cost breaks down as follows:
Acquisition cost for the fleet: $9.7 billion
Initial logistics set-up cost: $1.7 billion; Operating and support cost: $14 billion; Overhaul and upgrade cost: $3.9 billion.
While I have a science and technology background, I have absolutely no expertise in fighter jets. But as voter, I do have a policy question:
What is the game plan with these fighter jets in the context of defending the interests/agenda of Canada, North America/NORAD, NATO, UN, and of implementing foreign affair policies of this country? In another word, why does the govt think air-power hardware is the best option to defend Canada AND Canada's interests, and to fulfil our international roles and obligations, as opposed to spending money on the navy, army, or soft-power such as diplomacy?
Please don't get me wrong. Based on my experience with DND, I have a lot of respect for the military and civilian personnel of the department. I do not doubt their loyalty and love of this country. Nor am I asking anyone to disclose any military and foreign affairs secrets. I just think that Canadian voters need to better understand the govt's need assessment of the fighter jets if they are to make informed decisions.
Just like the photo I posted here, even with the stormy clouds hanging over the DND building, there is a silver lining in all these democratic debates !!!
Sent from BlackBerry
References / related links:
* Office of the Parliamentary Budget Officer, Parliament of Canada: "An Estimate of the Fiscal Impact of Canada’s Proposed Acquisition of the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter" (March 30, 2011 report) (Source: http://www2.parl.gc.ca/sites/pbo-dpb/documents/F-35_Cost_Estimate_EN.pdf)
* Wikipedia: Dropping the Writ
* Wikipedia: CF-35 Fighter Jet: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lockheed_Martin_F-35_Lightning_II
* DND / Airforces website: (source: http://www.airforce.forces.gc.ca/v2/equip/f35II/index-eng.asp )
"..... Canada’s next generation fighter jet, the F-35 Lightning II, is being produced as part of a multi-national initiative to build an affordable, sustainable, multi-role and stealthy fighter aircraft. The Canada First Defence Strategy identifies Canada’s need for a next generation fighter aircraft to protect the safety and security of Canadians, while supporting foreign policy and national security objectives. The acquisition of the F-35 helps the Canadian Forces defend against the threats of the 21st century at home, across vast distances and in harsh environmental conditions, and abroad.
The F-35, a 5th generation fighter, is less visible to radar, providing very low observable stealth, has integrated sensor fusion that provides the pilot with all available information at a glance, and high-capacity, secure net-enabled operations that allows all F-35 aircraft to communicate with each other and share data in a secure environment. The F-35 Lightning II has been developed by Lockheed Martin and partners through the Joint Strike Fighter program, a multinational effort to build and sustain an affordable, multi-role, next generation stealth fighter aircraft. Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Italy, Turkey, Denmark, Norway, and Australia are all partners in the program. Canada is acquiring the conventional take-off and landing variant.
The CF-18 Hornet, a 4th generation fighter, will remain Canada’s front line fighter until the 2020 timeframe, when it reaches the end of its life expectancy. The first F-35 is slated for delivery in 2016. The timing will allow for phase-in of the Lightning II, ensuring the Air Force can re-train its personnel and while avoiding a gap in operational capability. ....."
* CTV News: "Fact Check: How much will the F-35s really cost?"
Philip Mascoll, Special to CTV.ca, Mar. 29, 2011
One of the pry bars that allowed the Opposition parties last week to force the election was the revelation that the cost of the 65 new generation warplanes would apparently be much more than reported. The Stephen Harper government had said the F-35 warplanes - they will be called CF 35s here - will cost Canada about $9 billion to buy, at about $70 million each and about $250 million to $300 million a year to service over twenty years. However, Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page calculated that the cost would be more like $30 billion, which includes a service contract over a 30-year span.
And last year, Pentagon officials in the United States disclosed that the F-35 program has overrun its original cost estimates by more than 50 percent. A report from the Government Accountability Office to United States Senate Committee on Armed Services released in March 2010 projected the overall unit cost of an F-35A to be US$112 million in today's money.
In Canada, Parliamentary Budget Officer Page, who challenged the Harper government estimates, said that to arrive at his estimate of $29.3 billion, he used a "top-down" model that considered historical trends on the cost of aircraft and key cost drivers. Page estimates the acquisition cost for the fleet at $9.7 billion and the ongoing service cost for the 65 planes at $19.6 billion.
The government, however, said it stands by its figures. The difference in numbers prompted accusations from opposition parties that the Conservatives are being dishonest with Canadians about the fighter jet deal that was announced last summer. This in turn was one of the factors that led to the vote of no-confidence
After all three opposition parties indicated that they would not support the Conservative party budget presented on March 22, 2011, Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff moved a motion of non-confidence in the government. The motion declared that the government is in contempt of Parliament over its withholding of costing information for prison construction and the F-35 purchase. All opposition parties supported the motion which triggered the 2011 federal election. The Liberals say they would cancel the memorandum of understanding and hold a new competitive bid for the plane contract if they win the election. The NDP is also opposed to the purchase, and Bloc Quebecois have said they no longer support the deal. The Liberals say the Conservatives are wasting millions of dollars on the planes. But the Conservatives say the F-35 program would benefit nearly 100 Canadian companies and support thousands of technology jobs. They say that canceling the deal would kill jobs for Canadians and that the procurement is going to bring billions of dollars in economic benefits for the aerospace industry through maintenance and other contracts. They also argue that that the F-35 is the best plane available for the Canadian Forces and scrapping the deal would not only endanger their lives, but Canadian sovereignty.
The 65 planes are eventually intended to replace the country's fleet of 138 CF-18 fighters that have seen service all over the world since 1982. There are 79 of the refurbished ones left in service. The CF 18s cost $4 billion for the 138 aircraft and a $2-billion upgrade has been completed that will extend the life of the aircraft through 2017. They were chosen in part because they were a twin-engine aircraft, which was considered essential for flying in the high Arctic and over water. The plane also won the competition for a new Canadian Forces fighter because it had what Canada needed and for less cost. In Canada, the U.S. F-18 is called the CF-18, because it is produced to Canadian specifications. According to Department of Defence documents, the CF-18 has a searchlight on the left-hand fuselage side to aid Canadian Forces pilots in night-time identification of intercepted aircraft, and a painted-on false canopy on the underside of the fuselage intended to disorient an enemy in air-to-air combat. Many of the features on the U.S. F-18 version intended to operate off aircraft carriers are included on the Canadian version. The arrestor hook, heavy duty landing gear, and the folding wings are all on the Canadian version. These features proved to be an assistance operating the CF-18s from smaller airfields, especially in the Arctic. The CF-18 has a top speed of 1,911 kilometres per hour at 40,000 feet and a range of 3,700 kilometres.
The Canadian CF-35 will differ from the American F-35A through the addition of a drag chute and a special type of refueling probe. It is a single-engine aircraft, although it will operate in similar roles to the CF-18. It has stealth capabilities, which the CF-18 does not. The top speed is 1,773 kilometres an hour at an altitude of 40,000 feet and has a range of 3,700 kilometres. The plane was developed under the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) program, with nine countries, including Canada, funded development. Canada has been involved in the program from its beginning, investing US$10 million to be an "informed partner" during the evaluation process. Once Lockheed Martin was selected as the main contractor for the JSF program, Canada elected to become one of the top participants. 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.
The plane is regarded by some military observers as the most advanced combat aircraft ever devised and would be Canada's first stealth fighter-bomber. However, critics note the F-35 has yet to enter regular service in any air force and its development program is running two years late and 50 per cent over budget. Officials from two European companies have told the Commons Defence Committee that their firms could also produce planes that would meet the strategic needs of the Canadian military. It was a previous Liberal government that signed a memorandum of understanding with Lockheed Martin to develop the fighter, though it didn't commit Canada to buying the jets. The Conservatives say their government has invested $168 million in the Joint Strike Fighter program, which has resulted in over $350 million in contracts to Canadian companies. Ten countries are participating in the F-35 development program, under which more than 3,000 of the jets are expected to be built. Canadian companies will have a chance to bid on contracts to help build the entire fleet, not just the 65 aircraft under consideration by the federal government. As of April 2010, the United States intends to buy a total of 2,443 aircraft for an estimated US$323 billion, making it the most expensive defence program in U.S. history. The United Kingdom has said it will buy 138 and Italy has said it wants 131 F-35s. The Netherlands wants 85 planes, Australia 72 or more F-35As; Denmark is considering the F-35 as a possible replacement for 48 of its aging F-16 fighters. Israel has said it intends to buy over 100 F-35A fighters at an estimated cost of over $5 billion to replace their F-16s over time. Singapore could be buying up to 100 F-35s and India, Brazil, Finland, Spain, Taiwan, Japan and the United Arab Emirates are also expressing an interest.
( Source: http://www.ctv.ca/servlet/ArticleNews/story/CTVNews/20110328/fact-check-stealth-fighters-110329/20110329?s_name=election2011 )
* The Citizen April 10, 2011 "Harper still thinks fighter jet purchase 'a good deal'"http://www.ottawacitizen.com/Harper+still+thinks+fighter+purchase+good+deal/4591796/story.html#ixzz1JApjJV8k
* The Citisen: "Canadian Public Has Been Provided With F-35 Information, Says Harper. Conservative Leader Says Stealth Fighter Purchase a "Good Deal" For Canadians" (http://communities.canada.com/ottawacitizen/blogs/defencewatch/archive/2011/04/11/canadian-public-has-been-provided-with-f-35-information-says-harper-conservative-leader-says-stealth-fighter-purchase-a-quot-good-deal-quot-for-canadians.aspx)