Canada’s fighter jet fleet debate

Written by  //  January 17, 2023  //  Aviation & Aerospace, Canada  //  7 Comments

Eight years later
17 January
Ottawa will regret purchase of unreliable, unaffordable F-35 fighter jets
By Tamara Lorincz, a PhD candidate at the Balsillie School of International Affairs, Wilfrid Laurier University and member of the Canadian Voice of Women for Peace
That is the assessment of Paul Maillet, former Canadian Air Force colonel and CF18 engineering fleet manager, who wrote an open letter to Minister Anita Anand criticizing her decision to buy the F-35s.
15 January
Open Letter to National Defence Minister Anita Anand From Paul Maillet, former Air Force Colonel and CF18 engineering fleet manager
I will state for the record that you will very much regret the day we made this decision. We are buying a fighter, the type of which, even the Ukraine war will rarely commit to the close battlefield due to the growing overwhelming sophistication of air defenses. Drones and missiles are the current and future to the close ground attack mission. This is what the F35 was designed for. Throwing an F35 into such a dense battle space is suicide

9 January
Federal government inks deal to buy fleet of F-35 fighter jets
The deal represents a dramatic turnaround for the Liberal government, which promised not to buy the F-35 and to instead purchase a cheaper jet fighter and use the savings to bolster the navy.
The final agreement for 88 warplanes — involving the Canadian and U.S. governments and the jet’s manufacturer — won’t see its first delivery until 2026 and the first F-35 squadrons will not be operational until 2029, senior defence officials said during a technical briefing before the minister’s announcement.
The project’s budget of $19 billion remains the same as originally forecast by the Liberal government when it signalled the purchase last year. [Defence Minister Anita] Anand and other government officials are sticking to that projection despite the likely effect of inflation — which has caused budgets for other major programs to rise dramatically.


3 January
A tale of two fighter jets — and what it means for Canada’s defence and place in the world
The decision amounts to more than a simple choice between two expensive new aircraft: the American F-35 and the Swedish Gripen-E. It’s expected to say a lot about how the federal government sees Canada’s place in the world — whether it remains tied to a politically shaky United States or to a Europe that is determined to step out of Washington’s defence shadow.
Canada officially narrowed the field of bidders to two manufacturers on Dec. 1 by excluding Boeing. The federal government told the U.S. aerospace giant that its bid in the $19-billion program to replace the country’s CF-18s did not meet Ottawa’s requirements.


23 September
Pentagon Official, Casts More Doubt On Harper’s Dire F-35 Industry Warning
(Canadian Press via HuffPost) Frank Kendall, the Pentagon’s undersecretary of defence for acquisition, told reporters in Fort Worth, Tex., on Tuesday that he can’t see why the existing $637 million in contracts wouldn’t remain with Canadian firms.
“I believe those suppliers are part of the team, I don’t see any reason why they would not continue to be part of the team whether Canada buys jets or not,” Kendall was quoted as saying by the web site DefenceNews.
“We make our decisions on participation based on best value and if Canadian firms are still best value, then they will be part of the program.”
21 September
Harper, Mulcair blast Trudeau for promising to scrap stealth fighter jet
(Globe & Mail) Stephen Harper and Tom Mulcair both blasted Justin Trudeau for announcing a day earlier he would scrap the multibillion-dollar purchase of 65 F-35 stealth fighters to replace the current aging fleet of CF-18s, and reinvest the savings into the navy.
Experts say the F-35 purchase would cost taxpayers about $44 billion over the four-decade lifespan of the Lockheed Martin jets.
Trudeau, however, stood his ground, saying there are other, less expensive, proven options already flying that would meet the requirements to replace the CF-18s.
One of Trudeau’s foreign policy advisers, the retired Lt-Gen. Andrew Leslie who is running as a Liberal candidate in an Ottawa riding, said any of the other aircraft options would cost 15 to 30 per cent less than the F-35. The savings, he said, would be spent on upgrades for the navy, which he characterized as being in a state of “crisis.” Leslie is one of the Liberals’ star candidates, and the party activated him Monday as the campaign trail debate focused on military procurement.
The F-35 saga has been fraught with controversy, plagued by malfunctions and cost overruns. The project is on hold after the auditor general offered a scathing critique of the procurement [in March 2012! F-35 Purchase: Auditor General Slams Defence Department Over Jet Procurement]
The Harper government has since said it will extend the lifespan of the current CF-18 fleet to 2025 and it’s unclear if and when it intends to continue with the stealth fighter program.
F-35 fighter jet bursts onto election agenda; Trudeau says Liberal government wouldn’t buy it
(Ottawa Citizen) Justin Trudeau says a Liberal government would not buy the F-35 fighter jet and would instead purchase “more affordable” aircraft to replace Canada’s aging F-18s — throwing an issue that has long been a political headache for the Conservatives squarely into the middle of the election campaign.
The Liberal leader is also promising a “leaner, more agile, and better equipped” Canadian military that will operate under current National Defence spending and planned increases, and is also pledging to replace the Conservative government’s “failed” Canada First Defence Strategy.
Trudeau unveiled a series of defence and military commitments Sunday, about a week before the three main federal leaders spar in the Munk Election Debate on Canada’s foreign policy, scheduled for Sept. 28 in Toronto.


14 July
Pentagon’s big budget F-35 fighter ‘can’t turn, can’t climb, can’t run’
(Reuters) For starters, the Lockheed Martin-built F-35 — which can avoid sensor detection thanks to its special shape and coating — simply doesn’t work very well. The Pentagon has had to temporarily ground F-35s no fewer than 13 times since 2007, mostly due to problems with the plane’s Pratt & Whitney-made F135 engine, in particular, with the engines’ turbine blades. The stand-downs lasted at most a few weeks.
“The repeated problems with the same part of the engine may be indications of a serious design and structural problem with the F135 engine,” said Johan Boeder, a Dutch aerospace expert and editor of the online publication JSF News.
Pratt & Whitney has already totally redesigned the F135 in an attempt to end its history of frequent failures. But there’s only so much engineers can do. In a controversial move during the early stages of the F-35′s development, the Pentagon decided to fit the plane with one engine instead of two. Sticking with one motor can help keep down the price of a new plane. But in the F-35′s case, the decision proved self-defeating.
13 July
F-35 BritainU.S. Navy maintains grounding order for F-35 fighter jets
(Reuters) – The U.S. Navy on Friday maintained a grounding order for F-35 B-model and C-model fighter jets built by Lockheed Martin Corp, saying it was still not clear what caused a massive engine failure on an Air Force F-35 jet last month.
Britain’s new F35 jet fighter to miss international debut
Blow for F35 programme after jets grounded in US and expected to miss debut at RAF Fairford airshow
10 July
Americans Have Spent Enough Money On A Broken Plane To Buy Every Homeless Person A Mansion
(ThinkProgress) Just days before its international debut at an airshow in the United Kingdom, the entire fleet of the Pentagon’s next generation fighter plane — known as the F-35 II Lightning, or the Joint Strike Fighter — has been grounded, highlighting just what a boondoggle the project has been. With the vast amounts spent so far on the aircraft, the United States could have worked wonders, including providing every homeless person in the U.S. a $600,000 home.
It’s hard to argue against the need to modernize aircraft used to defend the country and counter enemies overseas, especially if you’re a politician. But the Joint Strike Fighter program has been a mess almost since its inception, with massive cost overruns leading to its current acquisition price-tag of $398.6 billion — an increase of $7.4 billion since last year.
8 July
Canada does not need fighter jets, period
Charles R. (Buzz) Nixon, deputy minister of National Defence from 1975 to 1983.
(Globe & Mail) New Canadian fighters would almost certainly never be involved in serious strike or aerial combat operations and are not required to protect Canada’s populace or sovereignty. They would only be of symbolic assistance (such as Canada currently is doing in Eastern Europe via NATO) and could provide support of ground forces in low-combat hostilities, which could be had more effectively and at lower cost by other types of aircraft.
The only credible aerial threat to Canadian territory, sovereignty and populace is a copy-cat “9/11” attack – a danger that essentially cannot be defeated by fighter aircraft.
Natural disasters at home or abroad would not require fighters, but could require helicopters, transport aircraft and other forms of military assistance.
Canada could be involved in providing humanitarian relief, peace-keeping or to help maintain order and protection of people and property – a type of operation would not likely involve aerial combat, but could require aerial support to ground operations. This type of operation could be provided more effectively and at lower cost than by using fighters.
9 June
F-35: Canada’s next ‘Widow Maker’?
The federal government is once again being pressed to reconsider its previously announced decision to buy a fleet of F-35 stealth fighter jets.  “This time the argument isn’t about cost or procurement problems, it’s about what’s inside the plane” (James Fitz-Morris, “Buying single-engine F-35 for Canada a ‘serious mistake’: report,” CBC News, 9 June 2014).
The Rideau Institute and the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives released a new report by Michael Byers this week detailing the dangers associated with the single-engine F-35.
In his report, Byers compares the F-35 to the CF-104 Starfighter, a single-engine aircraft that the Canadian Air Force flew from 1961 to 1987. The Starfighter was involved in 110 crashes during that period, but never saw combat—a quarter of its crashes were attributed to bird strikes and the absence of a second engine to assist the pilot in an emergency.
9 June
David Pugliese: F-35 decision coming this week? New study questions suitability of single-engine F-35 for Canada
(Ottawa Citizen) Expect more questions about whether Canada has decided to buy the F-35 starting up again this week.
Last week Reuters news agency, citing sources, reported out of Washington that Canada would purchase 65 F-35s. The CBC followed with an article suggesting Canada may, or may not, purchase the F-35….but that the decision would likely be announced this Tuesday. …
19 February
F-35 Program: Competitors Anxious To Know Harper’s Verdict
(Canadian Press via HuffPost) One of the would-be bidders to replace Canada’s aging CF-18 jet fighter fleet says it’s anxious to see whether the Harper government will hold a full-blown competition — or stick with the oft-maligned F-35.
The comments from Boeing Co. came Wednesday as Public Works Minister Diane Finley announced the next stage in the overhaul of the military procurement process: a new analytics institute to help inform future decisions.
The arm’s-length institute will provide much needed research on defence industries and capabilities, Finley said.
It’s been more than a year since the Conservatives rebooted the controversial fighter program, launching a market analysis to explore the possibility of alternatives to the F-35 stealth fighter, which has been fraught with delays and cost overruns.
Boeing is one of several aircraft manufacturers asked to brief a panel of experts that has spent months examining the capabilities, limitations and cost of the various competitors.


16 September
Will It Fly?
(Vanity Fair) The Joint Strike Fighter is the most expensive weapons system ever developed. It is plagued by design flaws and cost overruns. It flies only in good weather. The computers that run it lack the software they need for combat. No one can say for certain when the plane will work as advertised. Until recently, the prime contractor, Lockheed Martin, was operating with a free hand—paid handsomely for its own mistakes. Looking back, even the general now in charge of the program can’t believe how we got to this point. In sum: all systems go!
1 April
F-35-JSF-programMore problems cited in F-35 JSF program
(UPI) The Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program continues to trigger new controversies. Latest comments allege flawed estimates of the jet’s weight and, as before, questions about the timeline for the plane’s delivery and final cost.
Outgoing Executive Vice President and JSF General Manager Tom Burbage was quoted in the news media as saying the manufacturer miscalculated on the aircraft’s weight during its early development.
After spending 12 years fronting the Lockheed Martin F-35 program Burbage retired Monday on an optimistic note but still far from clear about the aircraft’s ultimate cost and delivery schedule.
22 February
F-35 fighter jet fleet grounded by Pentagon
(BBC) The US has grounded its entire fleet of 51 F-35 fighter jets after the discovery of a cracked engine blade.
The fault was detected during a routine inspection of an air force version of the jet (F-35A) at Edwards Air Force Base in California, said the Pentagon.
Different versions are flown by the navy and the marine corps. All have been grounded.
The F-35 is the Pentagon’s most expensive weapons programme. with a cost of nearly $400bn (£260bn).
12 February
Stinging criticism of F-35 process removed from parliamentary probe
(Canadian Press via CTV) Stinging criticism of the political and bureaucratic fiasco surrounding the F-35 by the country’s budget officer and even the auditor general was edited out of the final version of a parliamentary investigation, a draft copy of the report shows.
The Conservative-dominated all-party House of Commons public accounts committee held seven hours of hearings and spent much more time arguing with Opposition members behind closed doors last spring and fall over the handling of the stealth fighter program.
A Nov. 1, 2012 copy of the draft report, obtained by The Canadian Press, shows some of the most pointed critiques of Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page and Auditor General Michael Ferguson — both of whom testified before the committee — were removed or softened in the report’s final version.
4 February
Matt Gurney: The sad story of Canada’s unmanageable military
Last year, as the F-35 fighter procurement process began to fall apart, troubling questions emerged concerning how good a job the military was doing keeping its civilian masters in-the-know. Now, a new report has raised that troubling question again. Our civilian leaders can’t run the military if they don’t understand what’s going on inside it. And there’s reason to question whether they do.
This makes effective oversight a nightmare. Whenever a new minister is sworn in, there is a mad scramble by military officials to give their new boss a crash course in all things military. The problem with this arrangement, of course, is that it is not always the job of the civilian leadership to be the military’s cheerleader. They have to say no sometimes. And if everything you know about the military was taught to you by the military in as big a hurry as possible, you can’t blame the civilians for sometimes not knowing any better than to just go with whatever the brass says.


CF-18 pilots on standby to escort Santa across Canada
CFB Cold Lake’s Lt.-Col. Daniel McLeod set for Christmas Eve’s coolest mission
Santa Claus may see you when you’re sleeping, but only a privileged few can actually see Santa during his high-speed international flight on Christmas Eve.
The job of escorting Santa while the rest of the world sleeps falls to the same people tasked with keeping North American skies safe the other 364 days of the year: the North American Aerospace Defence Command (NORAD.) [See brilliant tongue-in-cheek comment below]
21 December
The 7 Most Overused Conservative Talking Points Of 2012
3. No Money Has Been Spent On The F-35 Acquisition
No answer regarding the now-scuttled acquisition of the F-35 is complete without reminding the audience that no money has been spent on the purchase. Well, as long as you don’t count all the cash spent on the flashy press conference in 2010 when Peter MacKay got to sit in the cockpit right? Wouldn’t it be more accurate to say plenty of money has been spent trying to replace Canada’s ageing CF-18s, it’s just that none of it has actually been on new planes? The Tories aren’t fooling anyone here. It’s time to admit mistakes were made.
8 December

Jeffrey Simpson: F-35 fiasco knocks Conservative spin off its axis

(Globe & Mail) Yet, another new process will be unveiled, with outsiders being asked to review the possibility of buying other aircraft than the F-35. Of course, the government will insist the F-35 hasn’t been “cancelled,” for that would be to eat too much crow in one gulp. Willingness to consider other options will fly in the face of every assertion the government has ever made.
Deeper still, the F-35 fiasco reveals systemic problems with military purchasing – problems also apparent with submarines, surface ships and army trucks.

Andrew Coyne: F-35s debacle a broad failure of democratic accountability

(National Post) It is difficult to imagine how a worse mess could have been made of the F-35 procurement, but I’m willing to bet this government will try.
When I say mess, I don’t mean to suggest charming ineptitude, but culpable incompetence, mixed with deliberate misrepresentation. What started with a catastrophic failure of oversight, progressed through many months of dishonesty, secrecy, and stonewalling, culminating in what can only be called electoral fraud — followed by still more dishonesty about everything that had gone before.
So while it is undoubtedly good news that, faced with a pending report showing the cost of the jets at, not the $9-billion first advertised, not the $16-billion the government maintained throughout the last election, not the $25-billion that, as the auditor general later discovered, it had privately been carrying on its own books, but (depending on which leak you believe) in excess of $40-billion, the government has reportedly at last decided to do what it should have done in the first place — put the contract out to an open, competitive bidding process — that does not mean we can simply turn the page. Enormous damage has been done to some fundamental principles and institutions of Parliamentary government, not to say the public trust, and someone must be held to account.
6 December
F-35 Purchase May Be Scrapped Over Soaring Costs: Report
(HuffPost) The plan to buy the F-35 fighter jet has faced controversy from the beginning, and now the federal government may just nix the purchase altogether.
The Conservatives, according to The Globe and Mail, will release estimates next week pegging the lifetime cost of the jets at more than $40-billion and announce that the government is considering purchasing another plane.
A separate story from Postmedia reports that the operations committee of cabinet has decided to scrap the purchase completey and that the government is set to report projected costs of more than $30 billion.
22 September

F-35 fighter jet: Is it the pinnacle of technology its creators claim?

(CTVNews|W5) Canada placed all its bets on the F-35 in 2010 when the government announced it planned to buy 65 F-35s at a cost of $9 billion. … according to Alan Williams, a former Assistant Deputy Minister at the Department of National Defence, “It may in fact cost 9, 10 or $11 billion to buy (the 65 planes),” he said. “But when you add in the cost to maintain this and sustain it and to operate it over 25 years or so, you’re really talking about $40 billion and that’s the number the government should be putting out to Canadians.” The cost of the F-35 is just one question raised by critics. Another is the way the decision to buy the airplane was made without allowing other manufactures, like Boeing, Saab and a European consortium, to make a pitch. …
The government’s solution so far has been to take the purchase of the F-35 away from the Department of National Defence and hand it to a newly created National Fighter Procurement Secretariat. The Secretariat has commissioned an independent study to estimate new costs for the F-35 and the results are expected in the next months.
9 August
F-35 review still in need of auditor 2 months after deadline
Minister’s office says revised tender will ‘ensure review is done properly’
(CBC) The Harper government has yet to hire an independent auditor to crunch the numbers on the F-35 deal, more than two months after its self-imposed deadline to clean up the stealth fighter fiasco.
Public Works quietly reissued a tender on Wednesday, asking for an audit firm to come forward and take on the politically explosive task of verifying the figures provided by National Defence, which was accused last spring of hiding the true cost of the multi-billion dollar program.
13 June
Former auditor general among independent experts to oversee F-35 reset
(Canadian Press/Yahoo!News) A former auditor general is one of two independent panellists appointed to oversee the redesign of Canada’s troubled plan to buy the F-35 stealth fighter.
Denis Desautels, who served as spending watchdog from 1991 to 2001, was named to the agency that’s been created to verify whether the radar-evading jet is the right choice for the Royal Canadian Air Force.
12 June
Public will see F-35 cost estimates after independent analysis: Ambrose
Just how much the Harper government trusts National Defence in the wake of the F-35 fiasco was drawn into question Tuesday.
Defence Minister Peter MacKay acknowledged he’s not sure who will carry out an independent analysis of the stealth fighter program.
The frank confirmation came on the same day Public Works Minister Rona Ambrose suggested it could be months before the latest price estimate for the radar-evading jet is tabled for public consumption.
15 May
Auditor takes on defence brass over F-35 cost calculations
Ferguson returns to public accounts committee to explain more findings on fighter jet purchase
5 April
Michael Den Tandt: Conservatives’ credibility in tatters if the Auditor-General is right about F-35s
So that’s it then: They knew and they lied. To Parliament. To all of us.
If Auditor-General Michael Ferguson’s word is to be believed — and there is no reason to think that it isn’t — then the federal cabinet and by extension the prime minister, and not just the anonymous gnomes in the Department of National Defence, are directly on the hook for the F-35 boondoggle, in the most egregious sense.
4 April
Andrew Coyne: Peeling back the layers of misconduct in the F-35 fiasco
Rae’s verdict on F-35 fiasco: ‘Harper should resign’
(Globe & Mail) The Liberal chief says it’s simply not credible for Mr. Harper, a reputed control freak who micromanages every aspect of his government, to claim he was unaware of the problems.
He notes that the news has been full of reports of escalating costs and that both the Congressional Budget Office in the United States and Canada’s Parliamentary Budget Officer, Kevin Page, have pegged the costs at billions more than the $9-billion touted by the Harper government.
“You can’t get away with the fiction that a $10-billion mistake in calculating the cost of the F-35 stealth fighter … had nothing to do with the man in charge, with the man whose name and whose moniker is on every single publication of this government,” Mr. Rae told a special Liberal caucus meeting Wednesday.
3 April
Crash or burn? The Conservatives’ F-35 dilemma
(Globe & Mail) The government told us the Joint Strike Fighter was the only adequate plane, which is awkward now that it needs to consider other options … Simply put, the Conservatives oversold the benefits and the necessity of the F-35 and never allowed a proper assessment of the alternatives. We were told that it was the only aircraft capable of meeting the RCAF’s requirements, that no other plane was even worth considering in a proper competition. F-35 purchase lacks ‘due diligence’, says auditor general Government to set up new F-35 Secretariat in response to report
20 March
Marc Garneau publicly vindicated at last – and on the front page of the National Post
John Ivison: Fix was in on F-35 bid process
… Alan Williams is a retired assistant deputy minister, responsible for procurement at DND in the early years of the F-35 project
“The whole process was twisted to suit the needs of the military, with the acknowledgement and support of ministers. It was totally unacceptable,” he said.
He thinks the government should write a new statement of requirement and put the whole project out to an open competition.
16 March
Fate of F-35 commitment unclear
The Conservative cabinet minister in charge of buying military equipment says he is looking at all options when it comes to the F-35 stealth fighter jets. The government has set aside $9 billion to replace the air force’s aging CF-18 fighter-bombers. Mr. Fantino says no contracts have been signed and no orders have been placed, giving Canada the flexibility to move ahead or behind in the line to buy the new aircraft, or buy more or fewer than the planned 65 planes. The purchase price in any given year depends on how many other countries are placing orders.
The price tag has been the subject of furious debate in Parliament, with the Conservative government insisting it will pay roughly US $75 million per aircraft when it starts buying in 2016. The opposition consider the figure is low. The Conservatives say they still believe the high-tech jet is the best choice to replace the CF-18. The new F-35 would not be delivered until sometime between 2017 and 2023.
6 March
F-35 Purchase: Auditor General Slams Defence Department Over Jet Procurement
(Canadian Press) The Harper government froze spending Tuesday on the multi-billion-dollar plan to buy new jet fighters minutes after the auditor general produced a withering report accusing the Department of National Defence of keeping Parliament in the dark about spiralling problems with the F-35 purchase.
The government also announced it would take away DND’s ability to buy new weapons systems and hand it to Public Works — all in an effort to shield itself from the ensuing assault in the House of Commons that followed the release of the report by new Auditor General Michael Ferguson.
The Defence Department faced wide-ranging scorn over its management of the a plan to buy 65 new F-35 radar-evading stealth fighters for what the military initially insisted would cost $9 billion. The cost of the purchase, which is already the largest single purchase of military hardware in Canadian history, will almost certainly be far higher than originally budgeted, Ferguson said.
1 March
Achat de F-35: Ottawa s’inquiète sans le dire
(La Presse) À l’instar d’autres pays, le Canada s’inquiète des dépassements de coûts liés à la conception et à la construction des avions furtifs F-35. Mais contrairement à ses partenaires, le gouvernement Harper se garde d’exprimer ouvertement ses inquiétudes.
… Jusqu’ici, le coût des F-35 a augmenté de 26%, tandis que l’échéancier de production a été retardé de cinq ans à cause de changements dans le design, de problèmes dans la mise au point des logiciels et de problèmes techniques. Au Canada, le gouvernement Harper soutient qu’il paiera en moyenne 75 millions de dollars par avion. On prévoit ensuite dépenser 7 milliards de dollars pour l’entretien des appareils pendant deux décennies. Mais plusieurs estiment que le coût unitaire sera nettement plus élevé – de 110 à 135 millions.
26 February
Defence officials to travel to Washington to discuss F-35s
(RCI) Canadian Defence Department officials will travel to Washington this coming week to discuss the controversial F-35 stealth fighter program. A department source tells the Canadian Press the meetings will be held on Thursday and Friday at the Canadian Embassy. Canada is one of nine countries funding the F-35’s, which will be built by Lockheed Martin. The program, however, has been plagued by delays and rising costs — making it a hot-button issue in the House of Commons. Lockheed Martin and the Pentagon have twice had to restructure financing for the fighter program. The Harper government has committed to buying 65 of the jets at $75 million each. Critics of the program have warned the per-jet cost could end up being double that. On Friday, Defence Minister Peter MacKay reaffirmed Canada’s commitment to go with the F-35’s.
16 February
Den Tandt: Fantino caught in F-35 crosshairs
(Ottawa Citizen) Not all of this is the government’s fault. It signed onto the F-35 program in good faith. The cost increases now stem from events in the United States and elsewhere, not in Canada. But in their dogged insistence on defending this program, come what may, the Tories have painted themselves into a corner, from which there is now no painless exist.
16 January
With fighter jet costs, the sky’s the limit
Documents suggest Ottawa sidestepped its own rules to buy aircraft
(Maclean’s) … In the eyes of Alan Williams, a former assistant deputy minister responsible for military procurement who supervised the F-35 file in Ottawa until his retirement in 2005, the purchasing process for the jet has become a public administration “fiasco.” He says the government is operating in the dark, noting a person wouldn’t buy a car without knowing its final price, performance or maintenance costs, let alone without even shopping around. “That’s exactly what the Canadian government is doing with the F-35 fighter,” he says. “It’s aberrant.”


22 November
Initial F-35 jets could be unable to track troops, talk to older planes
The first dozen or so F-35s slated to arrive in Canada won’t be equipped with software that allows the stealth fighters to communicate with ground forces, a feature designed to prevent incidents of friendly fire.
The initial operating system also won’t be equipped with a program that helps the fighters communicate with older aircraft, such as the Air Force’s Aurora surveillance planes.
15 November
Ottawa’s F-35 price-tag could skyrocket if Washington scraps purchase
(Globe & Mail) U.S. Defence Secretary Leon Panetta is warning Congress that the fighter program could be among the casualties if Washington is forced to implement across-the-board cuts to reduce its deficit.
26 April
Tories shrug off multiple warnings on fighter-jet price tag
Mr. Harper, campaigning in Quebec’s Eastern Townships Tuesday, said it’s incorrect to match up U.S. reports with Canadian estimates. His party has long insisted Canada is immune from rising research and development costs.
Michael Ignatieff’s Liberals have vowed they would cancel the deal if they won power and instead allow open bidding to supply Canada’s next warplane. The Conservatives chose the F-35 jet without allowing an open competition among suppliers.
NDP Leader Jack Layton, meanwhile, says new fighter planes are not a key defence priority right now – although he later acknowledged replacement fighters will “have to be part of the mix.”
8 April
(RCI) The US Government Accountability Office says the US plane manufacturer Lockheed Martin seems unable to control the soaring costs of the Stealth fighter bombers Canada plans to buy. The GAO says the high-tech planes–that can avoid radar detection–would be much more expensive than Canada’s Conservative Party government estimates. The latest assessment says after more than 13 years of development and production, the Stealth aircraft has not fully demonstrated that its design is stable. Canada’s official opposition Liberal Party has promised to cancel the multi-billion dollar purchase and hold an open competition to replace the Canadian Air Force’s aging CF-18s.
4 April
Does Canada need next-generation stealth fighter jets?
An absolutely necessary weapon or an astronomical cost to avoid? The planned purchase of F-35 Joint Strike Fighters has been portrayed as both, and the divide between the two has made it an issue in the current election campaign.
Stephen Harper and his Conservatives say the 65 fighter jets will cost about $15-billion, but Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page estimated in March that the cost will be twice as much.
18 March
Budget officer stands by disputed jet costs
(Toronto Star) The Parliamentary Budget Officer has blown a gust of wind under the Liberal party’s wings ahead of an election with a report that refutes the government’s insistence it will get a bargain basement price for new fighter jets.
The disputed cost of the new fleet of F-35s is one of the reasons Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff has posited for defeating the government. That could happen as early as Thursday and likely no later than Friday in a vote of no-confidence in Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservatives.
16 March
Harper missing the point on F-35s
(Embassy) … That, really, is the point: the absence of transparency and accountability in this whole process of replacing the CF-18s. And it is becoming increasingly obvious that the government and military have been lying about various aspects of the program since the beginning.
10 March
Matt Gurney: F-35 costs set opposition up for hat trick against Tories
(National Post) Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page has completed a report suggesting  the planned purchase of 65 F-35 stealth fighter jets for the air force will cost almost double the Tory estimate: $29-billion dollars. Whatever justification the Conservatives had for sole-sourcing the contract for the fighter jets — and there are completely legitimate reasons for them to have done that, despite the opposition’s attacks — introducing cost uncertainty of 80% into the price is enough to make even staunch defenders of the purchase reconsider.
F-35 price tag expected to top $29B U.S.: parliamentary budget officer
Even the Wall Street Journal is watching this story: Canada Budget Officer Says F-35 Fighter Jets To Cost US$29.3B
17 February
House Votes to Cancel F-35 Jet Engine Program
(NYT) The 233-198 vote is a sign that some freshman House Republicans are ready to cut military spending.
WASHINGTON — In a sign that some freshman Republicans are willing to cut military spending, the House voted 233-198 on Wednesday to cancel an alternate fighter jet engine that the Bush and Obama administrations had tried to kill for the last five years.
11 January
F-35 purchase will help Canadian Forces, bolster economy, Baird asserts
His comments come a week after the U.S. government announced that the development of a variant of the F-35 ordered by the Marine Corps will be put on a two-year “probation” due to “significant testing problems.”
The government has poured $168 million into the JSF program since joining the U.S.-led partnership in 1997 in a plan to replace Canada’s aging fleet of CF-18s.
6 January
Canadian officials defend F-35 jets
(Toronto Star) Canadian officials leapt to the defence of the controversial F-35 military jet Thursday after significant concerns were raised with the stealth fighter earlier in the day in Washington.
While U.S. concerns are specific to one particular vertical lift model, Canadian critics say ongoing cost overruns and lengthy delays should raise a red flag for a Conservative government determined to spend billions on the U.S.-made planes.
The Harper government is pushing ahead with plans to buy 65 F-35 jets at a total cost of $9 billion, which could jump to about $16 billion when service costs are factored in. Delivery of the first jets is not scheduled until 2016.


14 October
F-35 fighter jet purchase unnecessary: report
(CBC) The federal government’s decision to spend $9 billion on new F-35 fighter jets is “fundamentally flawed” and totally unnecessary, according to a report released Thursday by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.
“Canada does not need the F-35, either for North American/domestic roles or for expeditionary roles,” wrote CCPA research associate and Rideau Institute president Steven Staples. “The Canadian government should not proceed with the planned procurement of the F-35.” Why the F-35 stealth fighter is wrong for Canada
17 September
A Wednesday Night friend has raised a highly pertinent question.
“I’ve been wondering for some time why there’s been no mention in all the media stuff about this purchase–of a single engine fighter–of the longstanding (since I was a kid) Canadian requirement that any fighter plane purchase had to be twin-engined, the explanation being that the long flights in the North over barren territory made this essential in case an engine flamed out. Yet for the newest proposed purchase–abra cadabra–the requirement disappeared without a trace.”
The U.S.-developed F-22 Raptor may have looked like a promising twin-engine alternative, but funding is now canceled and, in any event, all export of the Raptor (even to major allies) was banned.
(LPC) Just the Facts: Taking Canadians for a ride on the F-35
24 July
Marc Garneau: How much are the planes really worth?
(National Post) We all know the federal government spends billions of dollars every year purchasing new equipment, including military equipment for our Armed Forces. The question is: How focused are we on ensuring that Canada gets the best value for these purchases? The answer: not enough.
As an ex-naval engineer, I was once involved with the procurement process at the Department of National Defence, managing the acquisition process for certain categories of naval equipment. The process is straightforward: Identify the requirement, define the specific performance capability that must be met, put out a Request for Proposal, assess the different bids, and choose the best one in terms of performance, cost and industrial benefits. But this government is taking a different approach: Given the amount of sole-sourcing it is undertaking, there is little evidence that it understands the importance of procurement as a policy tool for Canadian industry. For a government that touts the benefits of transparency and competition, it does not practise what it preaches. The Conservatives are on track to spend upwards of $16-billion of taxpayer money to acquire and maintain 65 new Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighters. Even though this is one of the biggest single military purchases in Canadian history, even though this aircraft is not yet certified, and even though a proper assessment has not been done to determine the future needs of our Armed Forces in the context of our foreign policy, they have forged ahead with this purchase without a single competitive bid.
Yes, we want the best equipment for our men and women, but we also have to define the purpose of that equipment in terms of roles and missions, and open up the process to the greatest possible competition.
Several contenders want to bid on the new fighter aircraft, and they should be allowed to respond to an open and transparent Request for Proposal in order to determine which of them offers the best package. It’s common sense. Defence Minister Peter MacKay knows this. In May, he told Parliament there would be a competitive process. But between then and now, the Conservatives went ahead with the sole-sourced purchase, getting Cabinet approval for the deal in the dead of summer.
Then there’s the maintenance of the JSF. Our current fighter aircraft, the CF-18, is maintained in Canada. Arrangements to maintain the new aircraft won’t be known for several years. This should have been an important part of the negotiations in an open procurement process since it represents a major life-cycle cost. To deflect questions about why Conservatives made a sole-source deal, MacKay is misleading Canadians by pretending that Canada’s early involvement in the design phase of the F-35s rendered it an “open competition.” This decade-old process was driven by the Pentagon finding the best candidate for the JSF partnership, and had nothing to do with negotiating Canadian purchase price or industrial benefits.
Moreover, it is perfectly normal that when the federal government negotiates a foreign defence procurement, the winning bidder agrees to provide benefits to Canadian industry over time for an amount equivalent to the value of the contract. This would apply no matter who wins the competition. In this respect, there is nothing unique about the Canadian input into the F-35 program.
The Minister is also making a big deal of the fact that a previous Liberal government initiated our investment in the JSF. That’s true, but the purpose was to benefit Canadian industry in the production of the aircraft: There was no commitment whatsoever to purchase the finished product. Putting things in perspective, what we have invested in the JSF so far represents about 1% of the price tag of $16-billion.
Everything around this process is wrong — which is why a new Liberal government would put this contract on hold while undertaking a complete review. The case has not been made to Parliament or Canadians on the need for this particular aircraft. Do we need a fifth-generation stealth fighter for the roles that we might accept as part of our foreign policy? What are those roles? Who is the enemy? What is the threat? Do we really believe, as Peter McKay has very rashly stated, that the chosen single-engine fighter is so reliable, it will never experience an engine failure in flight? We need to answer these questions.
Before we go any further, Conservatives owe it to Canadians to explain this purchase and to get the best deal.
Marc Garneau is the Liberal MP for Westmount-Ville-Marie, and the Liberal critic for Industry, Science and Technology.
23 July
The fighter debate
Yes, the F-35 jets are expensive, but what is your country worth? They will defend our sovereignty for many years
By Lt.-Gen. (Ret.) Angus Watt, former chief of the air staff (2007-09)
(Ottawa Citizen) As a former commander of Canada’s air force, I am not surprised by the intense controversy generated by the selection of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter as the next fighter aircraft for Canada. However, it is a courageous decision by the government that will help to protect Canada’s sovereignty well into the future.
… In summary, this is the right choice for Canada and I am pleasantly surprised that we have a government that is willing to make such a tough decision in the face of short-sighted and misinformed criticism.
I am particularly appalled at the Liberal announcement that they would cancel this contract at the first opportunity. As a former Sea King squadron commander earlier in my career, I know only too well the consequences of such political games.
17 July
As the debate over the Harper government’s decision to purchase a fleet of F-35 fighter jets heats up (and for reasons that escape us, the Globe & Mail is the principal attack dog),  Marc Garneau offers the following facts (without benefit of media interpretation) regarding the Liberals’ position on the issue.
He first points out that “Having spent my first career in the Navy as an engineer, I am very familiar with the defence procurement process.”
The Liberal party is trying to behave responsibly and is concerned about the following:
1. The selection process should have been based on a Canadian open tender process in order to select the best option based on performance, cost and industrial benefits. The competitive process always yields the best return for taxpayers and Canada did not do this. Competition naturally results in each contender putting forth their best offer and this ensures the best deal for Canada. Along with the JSF, candidates like the Super Hornet (Boeing) and the Typhoon (Eurofighter) should have been given the opportunity to bid, based on a clearly defined set of requirements.
2. Canada has not defined its requirements clearly. What roles would the new fighter be called upon to play in Canada and abroad? Fighting against what kind of enemy in foreign lands? Does this require a fifth generation fighter? Does this require a stealth aircraft? Would it be better to have 2 engines rather than one given the roles?
3. We are talking of somewhere between 12 and 16 Billion dollars of taxpayer money over 20 years. This is an astronomical amount of money.
4. Given increasing health costs, aging demographics, our lack of competitiveness and very large deficits, we owe it to Canadians to look at all expenditures very carefully
5. The current CF-18s are maintained in Canada by L3-MAS. We don’t have any guarantee that this will be the case for the F-35 and we won’t know for many years. This is a very large life-cycle cost.
6. Stephen Harper (then with the Reform Party) also wanted to cancel the Helicopter back in 1993 because of cost. Remember that at the time, we were facing 40+ billion dollar annual deficits under the Conservatives. Unfortunately, we are facing a similar situation today.
7. We stated yesterday that a Liberal party returning to power would put the F-35 program ON HOLD while we examined whether it was the best solution for Canadians based on the roles we expect of it.
16 July
Dogfight: Comparing the F-35 and CF-18 fighter jets
(National Post) Notes: The Joint Strike Fighter is regarded by some military observers as the most advanced combat aircraft ever devised and will be Canada’s first stealth fighter-bomber. However, critics note the F-35 has yet to enter regular service in any air force and a bloated development program is running two years late and 50% over budget.
Controversy dogs fighter jet contract
(Toronto Star) Defence Minister Peter MacKay gave a blunt assurance Friday that Canada’s new $9 billion fleet of F-35 jet fighters is so advanced that its single engine will never fail and leave a pilot in desperate trouble over the country’s remote coastlines or Arctic region.
“It won’t,” MacKay said, when asked if he had any concerns about the single engine failing — a factor that figured prominently years ago in deciding to go with the double-engine CF-18 Hornets, which will remain in action for another 10 years.
F-35 jet Canadian spinoffs expected
(CBC) Ottawa’s plan to buy 65 U.S.-built F-35 fighter planes is expected to benefit nearly 100 Canadian companies and support thousands of technology jobs.
Row over Canada F-35 fighter jet order
(BBC) Canada’s purchase of 65 new F-35 Joint Strike Fighter jets for 9bn Canadian dollars ($8.5bn; £5.6bn) is proving controversial.
The contract with US company Lockheed Martin was signed without a competitive bidding process, drawing fire from Canada’s opposition party.
Canada to spend $9B on F-35 fighter jets
Ignatieff wants House committee to examine ‘secretive, unaccountable decision’
(CBC) The Liberals want the committee to question other potential bidders and procurement experts to determine whether a sole-sourced contract gives maximum value to the government and taxpayers.
… the NDP argues even if Canada needs fighter jets, it’s not clear it needs these particular ones. [NDP MP Malcolm] Allen said the jet was built to suit the needs of U.S. forces. “We are basically buying these for Canadian duties,” he said. “New Democrats are fully supportive of the men and women in the armed forces … but we have to decide what it is they are going to do, and we have not done that.”
15 July
Liberal government would put fighter-jet plan on hold
While opposed to untendered contract now, Liberals won’t rule out sole-source deal later
(Globe & Mail) The Liberals have boldly announced that if they win office, they would “put a stop” to plans to issue an untendered, $16-billion contract for a new fleet of fighter jets – but then conceded that after they review the deal, they might decide a sole-source contract is necessary.
The Conservative government is set to announce on Friday plans to buy 65 F-35 fighters from Lockheed Martin without letting other fighter manufacturers bid.
The Liberals attacked the decision as secretive, and insisted that if leader Michael Ignatieff becomes prime minister, they would put the fighter purchase on hold and review all of the military’s equipment needs.
New fighter jets will probably be necessary after 2017, Liberal MP Marc Garneau said, but there’s enough time to make the right decision, and only competitive bids ensure the best value.
“If the Conservatives won’t put a stop to this contract, a future Liberal government will,” Mr. Garneau said.
But the party clarified later that this doesn’t necessarily mean that a Liberal government wouldn’t eventually do the same thing: issue a big contract to Lockheed Martin without asking competitors to bid.
Mr. Garneau said that’s highly unlikely, because a sole-source contract is justified only when no other supplier can offer what the military needs, and other companies manufacture fighters. But he said the Liberals don’t have enough information to rule out the possibility that a sole-sourced contract is necessary.
In the meantime, the Liberals say Conservative cabinet ministers must appear before the Commons defence committee to explain why they have to buy the Lockheed Martin fighters without a competition.
“We want the defence committee back to say, why do you need this fighter?” Mr. Ignatieff told reporters in Pickering, Ont., at a stop on his cross-Canada summer tour. “Why didn’t you open this to competitive bidding and demonstrate that this thing is needed?”
The Conservatives have settled on the non-competitive process because of what the choice of fighter means for Canada’s place as a U.S. ally, rather than for cost, cabinet documents obtained last month by The Globe and Mail indicate.
The F-35s are the product of the Joint Strike Fighter program launched in the 1990s by the United States and eight other nations, including Canada; the Liberal government of the day signed on to the development program, but didn’t commit to buying the planes. Canada’s CF-18 fighters will be retired between 2017 and 2020.
The documents show government officials are aware that requiring bids could lead rival jet-makers to lower prices, but that choosing another plane would lead Canada from the path its major allies will follow. “Competitive process would send signal to US/partners that we are not fully committed to JSF,” the documents state.
Canada’s 65 fighters will come at the end of a long production run – the United States plans to buy 2,400, and countries such as Britain and Australia will also buy some.
Mr. Garneau, a former navy engineer and astronaut, said Canada has other allies besides the United States, in NATO for example, and the need for a fleet that fits with U.S. plans should not be overstated.
Canada opposition assails F-35 fighter jet contract
(Reuters) – Canada’s main opposition Liberal Party condemned on Thursday a multibillion-dollar government plan to buy a fleet of new fighter jets from Lockheed Martin Corp (LMT.N).
The Conservative government said in May 2008 that it planned to buy 65 of Lockheed’s F-35 Joint Strike Fighters. Media reports say Ottawa will announce a C$16 billion ($15.4 billion) 20-year deal on Friday for the acquisition and maintenance of the jets.
Jeffrey Simpson: Just what we need: a $16-billion fighter jet
The F-35 simply doesn’t fit with Canada’s basic defence requirements
… We need defence capabilities to defend this country’s sovereignty. We need it to aid the civil power. And we need it to pursue Canada’s interests and values, in conjunction with allies, in troubled parts of the world. The F-35 might be nice to have in the best of all worlds, with unlimited budgets, but it doesn’t fit with Canada’s basic defence needs.
Defence of the realm mostly requires a robust naval capacity, which Canada lacks, and air-patrol capabilities, especially for the Arctic and coastlines, not fighter jets. Do we seriously believe the Russians or someone else are going to launch some kind of air attack against Canada such that we need fighters? If you think so, then go ahead and buy the planes. Otherwise, save the money.
Liberals would shoot down fighter-jet plan, Garneau says

7 Comments on "Canada’s fighter jet fleet debate"

  1. Kevin January 6, 2011 at 1:02 pm ·

    Given China’s new Stealth Fighter Jet, I hope this F-35 jet better be the beast up there. Worst yet, is this program even running?

  2. roman February 25, 2011 at 11:26 am ·

    Canada had its own fighter jet in the 1950’s (Avro Arrow) whose performance is still ahead of todays planes, however, the Conservative government of the day cancelled it and now todays Conservatives have to go shopping for foreign junk with a shoddy track record.

  3. John L March 23, 2011 at 7:11 pm ·


    So the Liberals are committed to buying a high-performance fighter aircraft, of some sort, in numbers they don’t know and a cost they can’t even estimate by the end of the decade.

    Pretty hard to discuss how their plan compares to the Con plan when the Liberals don’t seem to have even the vaguest idea of what their plan is.

  4. Catherine Gillbert March 25, 2011 at 7:25 pm ·

    Last night on As it Happens they were talking to a military expert – Winston Wheeler from the Strauss Institute on Defence Policy in the US. He said that the fighters were going to cost more like 150M$ each and 4x that for life time maintenance. He also said they were an unsatisfactory hybrid of 5 different uses. They were trying to do too many things and would end up doing all of them badly. He said the software is problematic. He pointed out that the Dutch govt had already been defeated on this issue. He also said that the F15s could be reworked and have a longer useful life.

  5. Derek April 21, 2011 at 9:10 am ·

    First, we do not need jets to defend our country. Who’s going to invade Canada? Russia? China? India? Pakistan? Mexico? Cuba? America maybe but probably not.
    Second, Peacekeeping mission? NATO members should get together and demand for better price.
    If NATO desperately need us to participate in such roles then we should get these planes for a fraction of the cost, call it NATO member discount.
    Third. The Americans learned from Vietnam that ground forces win war, not air power.

  6. Diana Thebaud Nicholson December 23, 2012 at 12:35 am ·

    Re CF-18 pilots on standby to escort Santa across Canada:
    Thank you for a reminder that our C-18’s are ably suited for northern surveillance and this key mission at christmas – taking care of Santa.
    Why this role for our air force was not included in the procurement order for the F-35’s is another example of the Minister’s lack of due diligence and DoD shortcoming in their oversight of the process. Canada’s 7 million children should demand answers and have the Minister of Defence brought back to Committee immediately.
    We will need a list of witnesses to give expert testimony and analysis. We may have to subpoena NORAD command’s communications records exchanged with Mr and Mrs Claus and possibly the CBSA for their records of Santa’s arrival and departure records at Canada’s frontiers.
    Any suggestions of witnesses and other experts will be most welcome.

  7. Diana Thebaud Nicholson July 14, 2014 at 2:47 pm ·

    A former senior DND official takes issue with C.R. Nixon (Canada does not need fighter jets, period):
    … we do need fighters, for the time being, for at least three main reasons:
    1. Sovereignty assertion – if Russians continue to test our northern defences or eventually try to test our resolve to protect the North West Passage by making incursions into our north, we have to have the ability to intercept, identify, and threaten them independently without having to call on the US to do it for us. Aircraft other than fighters cannot now do that . In future, unmanned aircraft may, but that will require significant investment as well, and we are not yet ready to go down that route in terms of doctrine, equipment, facilities, and training. If we don’t participate in NORAD, the US will only protect its interests, not ours.
    2. Self defence of our forces – if we ever deploy army or naval units and perspnnel on an operation, we have to give them the reassurance that the air space above and around them is protected. Granted we will seldom if ever act independently so we could expect allies to do so for us, but that presents problems if their interests, objectives and priorities do not coincide with ours.
    3. Its the price to pay if you want to sit at the adult’s table -. Yes the contribution is symbolic as Buzz claims, but our contribution of fighters in Kosovo, Kuwait, Libya, and now Rumania/ Lithuania‎ allowed us to sit at the table where political discussions were held which shaped the resolution of these conflicts. Sending a 6-Pack of fighters and support personnel is also cheaper, both financially and in the possible risks of loss of lives, than deploying a 220 man ship, or a 1000 man regiment, which would be the other alternatives.

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