Mark Collins – New RCAF Fighter: Can’t Exclude F-35 From Competition

Further to this post,

RCAF: “The F-35 if necessary, but not necessarily the F-35”

someone who knows procurement and who is no fan of the F-35 makes the case:

Liberals face dilemma over F-35 fighter jets

On a hot September Day Justin Trudeau — a month before he would win the election — stood up in front of a crowd of about 800 at Pier 21 in Halifax and promised that a Liberal government would scrap the controversial purchase of 65 F-35 fighter jets.

The “tens of billions” of dollars saved by opting to replace Canada’s aging CF-18s with a more affordable option [but see: “F-35 and Canadian Election: Liberals Loose With Fighter Costs“] would go to expand and fast-track spending for the Royal Canadian Navy and guarantee the timely fulfillment of the $39-billion national shipbuilding project [but see links at the end of this quote].

Then last week, speaking at an Ottawa conference, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan told an audience of experts and industry representatives that the government would not exclude Lockheed Martin’s F-35s from the competition for a new aircraft, but instead would hold an open and transparent process that would focus on obtaining the right aircraft for Canada. It wasn’t the first time he’s hinted at the possibility of leaving the door open for the F-35s [see here], but it was the first time he’s said so point-blank [more here].

Ensuing media coverage framed the statement as a backtrack of the Liberals’ campaign promise, but according to one procurement expert, excluding the F-35 was never an option to begin with.

Alan Williams was the Defence Department’s assistant deputy minister of materiel in 2002 and signed the initial agreement on behalf of Canada to enter into the joint strike fighter program with the Unites States, eight years before the Conservative decision to purchase the planes. Williams has written extensively on the issues with the Conservatives’ sole-source decision to purchase the jets.

But despite their huge price and capabilities many argue are unnecessary, Williams told The Chronicle Herald that the Liberals have little choice but to include the F-35s in the competition.

“When Trudeau made his comments during the campaign they were nonsensical,” he said. “You can’t on the one hand say you’re going to have an open and fair competition and say it’s going to exclude company A or company B. You can’t prevent anyone from bidding.”

Williams said a trade agreement requires the government to run a competition, unless it can argue that the legislation isn’t applicable and a sole-source contract is required. Prejudging the outcome of the competition by explicitly excluding the F-35 would violate this agreement.

What Williams said the government can do is write requirements that put far less importance on the features the F-35 boasts — such as stealth capabilities — and higher value on what it doesn’t.

“Unlike the old requirements that basically ensure that only the F-35 can compete you could say the primary responsibility is ensure proper control over over Canada and its borders and defence of North America, in which case other requirements become much more valuable than the stealth feature,” Williams said [see “F-35 and Canada: Good for “Discretionary” Missions, But…“]. “Then if you decide in an evaluation to put more weight on price, the likelihood of an F-35 winning becomes dramatically reduced.” [However see also: “Who Needs Fifth Generation (Stealth) Fighters? But Escorted Russian Bombers?“.]

But even with a cheaper plane, Williams said it doesn’t mean the government will have extra money to spend on the navy [as these ministers will soon find out: “New Super Cabinet Committee for Canadian Defence Procurement“–because of: “The Great Canadian Shipbuilding Never Never Land: Wild-Ass Guesses=FUBAR“]…

Relevant:

F-35 Software Woes, Cont’d

How Long Will the F/A-18E/F Line Growl On? Part 2 (with RCAF implications)

USAF Plans to Cut F-35 Production Ramp-Up

Mark Collins, a prolific Ottawa blogger, is a Fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute; he tweets @Mark3Ds

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7 thoughts on “Mark Collins – New RCAF Fighter: Can’t Exclude F-35 From Competition”

  1. Williams is still clueless about the value of stealth. Still hung up on it being useful only for 1st Day, 1st Strike missions when not being detected, not being targeted is important in all missions.

    And what will he do when the price reality hits home and despite all the media Sturm & Drang, and Willims bleating it is revealed to be the lowest price of all the competition aircraft. And not by a few bucks. Based on recent sales of Shornets to Australia at $105m each and Rafale sales to Egypt at $125m and Typhoons to Kuwait at about $140m a pop, the news last week that an F35A can be procured in 2020 for under $80m will come as a shock to Justin’s piggy bank claims.

    We know Liberals don’t give a damn about election promises, like budgets, so they should have no problem blowing off Justin’s election lies about the F-35.

    The lowest cost airplane, with the best long term support and development future just happens to be the best technical aircraft allowing the RCAF to perform all their current missions and take on new ones related to reconnaissance, electronic warfare & battlefield surveillance .

  2. A friend knowledgeable about defence matters makes some points:

    “Some of the reasons why the F-35A may not be the best option for the RCAF’s NORAD mission:

    – no tail hook: safe operations at FOLs [Forward Operating Locations in the High North] routinely use the CF-18’s tail hook and the cable arrestor system that can be quickly deployed at each FOL (the USN’s F-35C has a hook);

    – no tail chute; even so this is not as good as a tail hook;

    – limited internal missile capacity, not enough to deal with a volley of six or eight of the new Russian air-launched cruise missiles [see links at end of this comment];

    – questionable range;

    – USAF boom refuelling system (sole system on F-35A) will force acquisition of new tankers as RCAF CC-150 Polaris cannot refuel F-35A in flight;

    – exterior carriage of either or both of fuel tanks or missiles totally degrades stealth;

    – one engine; no matter how reassuring the statistics on single-engined fighters may be, pilots in the North are a long way from anywhere and their confidence depends upon two engines.

    – numbers in fleet: to meet NORAD force requirements, CF-101 VooDoo-sized fleet is necessary (66 aircraft approx [in 2011 the CDS said 65 was the minimum http://ipolitics.ca/2011/11/03/fleet-of-65-f-35s-is-minimum-operational-requirement-natyncyk/ ]).

    Given Russian modernization of the Long Range Aviation fleet and new cruise missiles, as well as the Russian military doctrine positing nuclear use in an escalation dominance concept, the NORAD mission remains vital for defence as well as sovereignty.”

    Quite. Very relevant:

    “NORAD and Russian Cruise Nukes: “de-escalation”?
    https://cgai3ds.wordpress.com/2015/01/22/mark-collins-norad-and-russian-cruise-nukes-de-escalation/

    “Russian Bombers and Cruise Missiles: Should Me Worry?”
    https://cgai3ds.wordpress.com/2015/03/16/mark-collins-russian-bombers-and-cruise-missiles-should-me-worry/
    [note near end RCAF commitment of 36 fighters to NORAD]

    “NORAD and Russia Upping the Blackjack Ante”
    https://cgai3ds.wordpress.com/2015/05/27/mark-collins-norad-and-russia-upping-the-blackjack-ante/

    “NORAD Note: Russian Bomber (with cruise missiles) Strikes in Syria”
    https://cgai3ds.wordpress.com/2015/11/20/mark-collins-norad-note-russian-bomber-with-cruise-missiles-strikes-in-syria/

    Lots that more people in Canada should be aware of and be thinking about.

    Mark Collins

    1. Hmm.

      It does have a tail hook for arrested landings.
      There is drag chute pack, being developed in Ontarion for the Norwegians.

      It has better better range than any of the competitors

      None of the competitors have any internal weapons storage. Nil, nada, zip.

      The F35A can be equipped with a drogue probe if ordered that way, the fuselage volume space for the equipment is in all models. But a redherring anyway. The Polaris MRTTs are very old and will n the d replacing by 2025, the same time frame we would acquire F-35s. And the options for a new MRTT all have both Boom and P&D systems.

      And as the Russians and Chinese are going all high tech stealthy it would seem to make sense we equip our Air Force a most modern piece of kit that can fight in and be improved overtime.

  3. New gov’t staying as F-35 partner (in JPO) for another year:

    “The Canadian government intends to make a payment this spring to remain part of the consortium of F-35 Lightning fighter-jet buyers, despite a Liberal election promise to exclude the aircraft when selecting this country’s next warplane…

    This week, however, Department of National Defence spokeswoman Ashley Lemire said Canada plans to pay the latest required annual instalment to the Joint Strike Fighter program. She said the upcoming payment is estimated to be $32.9-million (U.S.)

    The contribution would maintain Canada’s membership in the F-35 buyers’ pool. This gives Ottawa the right to buy F-35s at a discount and allows Canadian companies to continue to bid on supply contracts for the plane…

    Canadian companies have won more than $750-million in contracts related to the F-35 because Canada has been a partner in the program…”
    http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/canada-to-stay-in-program-of-f-35-jet-buyers-despite-pledge-to-withdraw/article28897002/

    Mark Collins

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