Friday, February 25, 2011

F-35 saga continues: the numbers?

The Canadian government’s untendered procurement of the F–35 Joint Strike Fighter has once again become newsworthy, this time from an unexpected source. Serious concerns about the aircraft’s limited range and operational capabilities in relation to the Canada First strategic policy have already been raised yet, inexplicably, remain unresolved by the government. The F-35 refueling system is not compatible with the current Canadian Air-to-Air refueling capabilities, for example.

Why is this capability strategically important?

Primarily because the aircraft’s limited strategic range and the present location of Canada’s tactical air force bases (Cold Lake, Alberta, Bagotville, PQ,). Canada’s arctic frontier is vast, the potential ranges to interception are significant, inclusive of a flight over exceedingly inhospitable terrain. Without a refueling capability, the F-35’s limited range presents serious territorial inadequacies and restricts Canada’s ability to present an effective armed deterrence to any territorial infractions.

Solutions? Incur the extraordinary expense of building supportive air base/s? Provide the refueling capability to Canada’s fleet of air tankers? Change the system inherent with the ordered model to conform to Canada’s current standards?

Air bases are prohibitively expensive, particularly when one considers the advanced technology of the aircraft and the necessities of providing an suitable runway and a comprehensive maintenance/operational capability during the extremities of the winter climate. The second option would be potentially restrictive in a tactical sense as once the refueling system is changed, the designated refueling aircraft would serve only serve one aircraft and not the variety of platforms used by our allies during international/NATO operations.

The third option is clearly the most preferable. Sadly, when this issue was addressed in the House of Parliament, the query was used to launch a unsavoury political attack about the parliamentarian’s loyalty to Canada’s Forces. MP Garneau served with the Canadians Forces with distinction, passing the rigorous selection criteria for Canada’s fledgling manned space program to become Canada’s first astronaut and in October, 1984, the first Canadian to soar to space.

Canada’s defence minister accused of Garneau  of  “working against those men and women he used to serve with”. 

Canadians are still waiting for an answer to Garneau’s question.

Kevin Page added further discord on government untendered F-35 program on the 28th of February when he publicly challenged government fiscal estimates not only on the defense program, but the controversial Crime Bills and Corporate Tax cuts. These are important issues; surely Canadians deserve to know the true cost of the programs the government intends to implement, particularly now that they have become election issues. 

How can parliamentary democracy, a democracy thousands of Canadians created/supported through blood, toil, courage and sacrifice, be served when those to whom we have entrusted to govern fail to provide accurate information on so important issues?

How can the parliament choose the best aircraft for Canada’s sons and daughters under such circumstances?

Michael L Blais CD
Founder/President Canadian Veterans Advocacy.

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