The news reports have the Liberal government planning to buy a bunch of Super Hornets to bridge the gap as the current CF-18s fade out and before some other plane is ready.
First, there is no official new policy unless I missed something while flying to and from DC, even as I happened to be near the Lockheed offices.
Second, let’s repeat the first: no policy announced yet.
But third, damn! Yes, the Conservatives blew this big time by sole-sourcing, by perhaps letting the RCAF game the requirements, by kicking the can down the road–hoping to make the decision after the 2015 election even though they had all the data/info they needed from the Independent Panel and elsewhere long before that election, etc. But, as the old saying goes, two wrongs don’t make a right but two Wrights do make an airplane….
Sole-sourcing the next plane after being so critical of that is a problem. One thing to sole source a quick purchase of a needed supply ship or a lease of helos in mid-war. But to do this dramatic of a reverse needs much explaining.
The big problem here is that everyone will see through this: that buying Super Hornets to bridge the gap is really a decision to buy the Super Hornets and not buy the F-35. Why? Because a mixed fleet is expensive–different maintenance equipment, different simulators, different training of pilots and on and on. Canada would have to have two different systems. The US could afford such stuff, but stupidly chose not to for the lure of the economies of scale of one plane–the F-35. Path dependence means going back and reversing that decision is hard for the US and hard for the allies who bought into the plane because they thought that a massive buy would mean lower costs.
I am not a fan of the F-35 as the entire process has been ill-conceived. Maybe it will prove to be a decent plane, just as the F-22 ended up being a better plane that expected, once folks figured out how to keep it from killing its pilots. And the stories of the previous generation of planes is also one of problematic development. The difference here is that the F-35 is being mass produced before it shakes out its problems, so that many planes may have to be fixed later on. On the other hand, the Super Hornet is not as cheap as originally conceived either, so the price gap is not as wide especially when one considers the shorter life-span of the plane.
I don’t buy the claims made by either Lockheed or Boeing since they are slick salesfolks with a lot at stake–why expect either one to be anything but biased advocates? I also don’t trust pieces that depend on one anonymous source (sorry, Matthew Fisher). I have a good friend who has been deeply involved in the Canadian vetting of this stuff, but he is unable to talk to me about it since much of the stuff is classified. So, what do I think? I am confused. I skimmed the Danish report, which suggests that the F-35 is the better choice (and is much clearer than the Canadian panel’s report). But then I hear that certain bombs cannot fit inside and if they are outside the plane, kiss stealth goodbye.
I am not a plane expert. All I can really conclude is that if the Liberals follow through on this bridging approach, they are basically contradicting damn near all of their stances on how procurement should work. And the best way to illustrate that is:
Stephen Saideman is a Fellow and the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, and the Paterson Chair in International Affairs at Carleton University’s Norman Paterson School of International Affairs