Mark Collins – New RCAF Fighter: Debate on F-35 vs Rest, esp. Super Hornet

Further to this post and “Comments”,

New RCAF Fighter: Consult, Consult, Consult (with industry)–Why Not Just Compete?

the start of two interesting posts by two different people at, at two sometimes heated topic threads (many service members post at the site):


I’m going to be blunt. The problem isnt that this is an echo chamber…. that would be such a trivial thing if it was. Rather the problem is that the viewpoints expressed by several members here, are not more widely known in the public. the problem is that we have an electorate that frankly do not have the slightest understanding of this issue, and a political class that understands almost as little.

And this is the incisive part. You claim there is another side. I know for a fact that the arguments you put forward here are for the most part wrong. The vast vast vast majority of the reason why we’re here today is not because the F-35 is deficient in capability, cost, or industrial benefits. Actually, for not a single one of those categories can any of the other options claim they are better than the F-35. That was known clearly as far back as 2010, and despite every effort to prove otherwise, it remains true today. And that’s widely known within the bureaucracy, and now within the government.

Rather the reason why we’re here is because on a constant basis we have had two political parties, who despite in possession of the facts of the program, fail to possess political will, or understanding of this issue to actually get things done…


I am not going to jump into this F-35 vs the rest debate.

However, surely we can all agree on one thing: All five aircraft on offer would provide the RCAF with an upgrade on its current fighter force. We can at least take solace in the fact that no matter what aircraft is chosen, it will be an upgrade.

There are other issues which I am more interesting in hearing answers to, but they tend to get lost amongst the noise of “F-35 is awesome because…..” and “F-35 sucks because….” ad nauseum.

1. Purchase cost is a small part of the overall price tag – what about operating costs? Surely that is a far more important figure in the big picture.

2. AAR [air-to-air refueling] – What would the cost be to get new tankers to support the new fighter if the new fighter requires a different system than our current mix of Airbus/Herc? Surely that calculation must be added into the mix? They are not unrelated [see also: “New RCAF Tanker Aircraft Depends on New Fighter Type Selection (when?)“].

3. Are our northern FOLs [forward operating locations–scroll down here to “Royal Canadian Air Force”] compatible with the new fighters? What is the cost to upgrade these sites, including runway extensions if required? Again, that is not an unrelated cost – it must be factored into the decision.

4. What industrial offsets will the five companies offer? LM has been very vocal about the ‘potential’ economic benefits of buying their offering, but as far as I know they are not guaranteeing any industrial offsets – only the opportunity to bid for contracts. (and I am certain someone on here will swiftly correct me if this is incorrect) The other four would no doubt have to offer guaranteed industrial offsets to counter the greater potential value of the LM programme. It will be interesting to see what they offer, and what Canadian companies become involved…

Do jump into both threads.

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


16 thoughts on “Mark Collins – New RCAF Fighter: Debate on F-35 vs Rest, esp. Super Hornet”

  1. Is Canadian government’s new fighter questionnaire rigged?

    Interestingly enough, the flight scenarios in the attached file [link at original] requires the respondent to use “actual aircraft configuration (utilize systems which are operational with Armed Services today only – non-developmental)”. This requirement pans out very differently. While Saab currently is the only one to sport the Meteor operationally, they only operate the 39C Gripen and not the longer-ranged 39E which would add considerably to their odds when flying intercepts far out over the Arctic. On the other hand, the F-35 is currently only operational in the V/STOL F-35B version, and if the Canadians decide to interpret the requirement literally, this is effectively a way to make certain the F-35 is a non-starter without explicitly writing so. Another problem for the F-35A is the bases used in the scenario. As fellow blogger Doug Allen noted over at Best Fighter 4 Canada, the 6,000 feet runways are too short for comfort. The Typhoon in turn is designed for exactly the scenario described in the evaluation, transiting high and fast to meet an enemy aircraft far out, but is a few years from getting an AESA radar and the Meteor. The Rafale does feature supersonic drop tanks and a potent AESA set, but the repeated requests for “seamless” integration with Five Eyes ISTAR and other tactical and strategic assets might not play to its strengths. The weapons are also uniquely French.

    Enter the Super Hornet, which features the AN/APG-79 AESA radar, is seamlessly integrated into the US-Canadian NORAD air defence network, and carries the same munitions and missiles that the ‘legacy’ Hornet does. The last part is explicitly asked for in the questionnaire…’


  2. A friend familiar with defence matters observes:

    “I think we need a bit of humility to this discussion. Not everyone in the Norwegian, Danish, British, Israeli etc. air forces are fools and some of these are well respected for the depth of their technical competence. Understandably, many in the CAF find the fighter ‘debate’ in Canada extraordinarily frustrating, even if they are not close to the project, for the simple reason that the public discussion is incredibly idiotic and the politicians are no better. As has been the case in almost every similar procurement, except those done under pressure of war.

    My own sense is that the F-35A has shortcomings in the RCAF context: aerial refueling is by the boom system which the RCAF does not have and the A model doesn’t have an adequate tail hook for use with the arrestor system at the far northern FOLs which is used much of the year, given the marginal length of the runways and the cost of fixing bent aircraft if they over-run. The USN F-35C has neither limitation but would be considerably more expensive.

    I do not believe that the single engine should be a factor for NORAD missions up north but the internal capacity for weapons in stealth mode may be–pylons will no doubt be added for tanks and weapons but that will reduce the low observable quality.

    Range on internal fuel seems no worse than the competition.

    Perhaps it would be most responsible to argue for:
    – the C model
    – at least 80 aircraft.

    Yes, this would cost more but we can afford it with a small increase of the budget to historic averages decade by decade.

    As for the quality of the national conversation on defence, DND has to shoulder some responsibility for cancelling its academic support program.”

    Money, money, money rather than public logical analysis based on knowledge in this country.

    Mark Collins

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