Sunday, January 23, 2011

F-35, boondoggle? Think "Sea King"

In the last couple of weeks, there's been growing discontent about the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II which is intended to be the workhorse of the air forces of Canada, the US and a number of our allies in the years to come.   At first it was just the RAND Corporation and a series of private military analysts who know the realities of the program better than governments.   Then the F-35 flunked a major war game off the coast of Australia.   And these in 2008, was two years before Canada formally opted into the program last year.

But now, and surprisingly, the malcontents are to be found within the Pentagon itself.   My fellow blogger Impolitical noted this back in November ... but it's now gotten even worse.   First, the estimated cost for the program for 2443 aircraft -- $382 billion and counting.    And second, it now appears the Defense Department and the Environment Protection Agency are at loggerheads over concerns the plane may not mean emissions and noise regulations -- since a report that was supposed to be released this past week detailing the environmental assessment on this, has been "delayed" three months.

There is potentially a third, and one that must be panicking the Pentagon.   Turns out one of the variants of the plane, the F-35 B, is a VTOL or vertical takeoff and landing -- in that it takes off and lands like a helicopter but then flies in the air like a standard supersonic jet.   Unfortunately, the present iterations of VTOL have been plagued with major safety issues.  Think of the Lockheed F-22 Raptor which was de-funded.   And the Bell-Boeing V-22 Osprey (no relation), a Marine turboprop / helicopter hybrid which after tens of billions spent may also be de-funded in favour of a more reliable craft, the Sikorsky UH-60 (a pretty reliable technology from, oh let's say, the 1970s!).

In the present environment in Washington there is huge pressure for spending cuts and there are no more sacred cows, not even the military -- a military which took great pride in spending more on its budget than the civilian government spent on health care, a complete reverse of all if its allies.

It's worth pointing out that due to cost concerns, the UK has switched its order from the F-35B to the F-35C the latter of which is the intended replacement for the F-18, the workhorse of the Canadian Air Force.  (The A series, incidentally, would replace the F-16).

Canada has been involved in the program since 1997, so it's no surprising that we're going in headlong on this.   So really both the Liberals and the Conservatives have a hand in this mess.   And it's true that out of the 2400+ planes being built, we're "only" buying 65.   But here's my question:   It is really so important to Western security that we have an identical plane to our allies, or would another similar plane with similar performance outputs do the job and for less money while employing Canadians for the medium and long terms?

Want proof?   The Sikorsky Sea King.   It proved to be disastrously expensive to operate as well as to maintain for us Canadians.  Not just because of its age, but because our weather challenges made it very prone to corrosion from the beginning.   On the other hand, Marine One, the US President's helicopter, is of the same vintage (the 1960s) and still in marvelous shape -- and keep in mind DC is in the same mid-Atlantic region which is continually pounded by the "Nor'easter" in winter and hurricanes in summer that plague most of the rest of the East Coast from Virginia to Newfoundland.   I don't think it's just a question of service levels quite frankly -- it's possible we just ended up with a bill of goods.

But we usually do -- look at the submarines we bought second hand from the UK when we probably could have built new at home for the same price.

It's amazing there's virtually no debate on this one ... and when questions are raised one is accused of being unpatriotic.

I support our troops wholeheartedly.   I also support our men and women in uniform have the best equipment; after all, with the end of the death penalty, they and cops are the only groups who can kill legally.   But it's Canadian tax money, and we have a right to demand value for money.   It's more important to determine we need the Cadillac than say we want it -- there's a big difference.  If the Pentagon is willing to have a second look at the F-35 then so should our DND -- and there should be no political interference if it's determined we made a mistake.

Better to pick the right plane before 65 of them are built and we end up with even more bills of goods.   We don't need a military industrial complex in Canada -- any more than the US does.

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Unknown said...

You my friend have no idea what you are talking about. The only thing that is correct in you post is the headline!Canceling the F35 will likely end up in the same result as canceling the Sea King replacement. More money paid out to replace an aircraft 20 yrs past the date it should have been replaced.
You sight the US Presidents Sea King as in outstanding shape compared to CF Sea Kings currently still in use. Here in lies the problem CF Sea King were purchased by the Royal Canadian Navy's Air Arm in 1963 and have been used and continue to be used in extremely harsh conditions ie at Sea in all weather. The Sea King Marine one is a VH-3D purchased new in 1978 and it has not and will not fly it the same conditions that CF Sea Kings are still required to fly in i.e Landing on the flight deck of a Canadian Frigate at night in rough weather in the North Pacific. Its like you are comparing a 1995 Crown Victoria only driven on the Weekends and garage kept to a 1980 Crown Victoria used as a police car! Feel free to question the F-35 but use correct information. I know of what I speak because I have been in the NAVY 20yr about the same time the current Sea King replacement was suppose to start. At times I have to fly in those 47 yr old helicopter thanks to a ill thought out political decision. And I am troubled that it will happen again! Thanks Liberal Party of Canada

CanadianSense said...

Questioning the purchase of military equipment is not "unpatriotic".

Playing political games labeling decisions to replace aging equipment "cadillacs" by Chretien and now Ignatieff make for a repeat a decade of darkness under the Liberals.

Read the AG report on the underfunding of the military by the Liberals.

Where is the alternative proposal by the Liberals?
What is the economic benefit and costs for their air craft purchase?

If the cost is 16-20 billion with $ 6 billion in manufacturing contracts. What is the saving under the Liberals?

$ 3-5 billion?

The Rat said...

Is being Liberal truly a recipe for blindness? Look at each example you gave and examine who is responsible. The Sea King, as pointed out above,was to be replaced but instead the contract to replace it was canceled for political reasons by the Chretien Liberals. Cadillacs, you see. The submarines were bought (actually taken in trade for value), again by the Chretien Liberals, because they would not see the value in buying new (Cadilacs, I guess). Instead they tried to replace the very old subs we had with sort-of old subs the Brits didn't want. And so began the fiasco. Now we have a plan to replace aging F/A aircraft with a new one and yes it costs a lot. Still, that money is calculated over something like 20 years. Should we really trust the Liberals again when they shout "Cadillac"? What aircraft do they seriously suggest? And when Canadian taxpayers demand "value" what you really mean is kickbacks to Canadian manufacturers. Instead of asking what is the best equipment for our soldiers Liberals first ask what financial benefit do Canadian companies get and that is just a recipe for more fiascos. Frankly, I'd rather see Canada sole source everything than let the bureaucrats and politicians dip their greedy fingers into the process.

Arrow RL206 said...

I'm no fan of the Liberals (really can't see much difference between them and the Cons, policy-wise), but at least they know how to select a decent jet-fighter. After all, it was under the Liberals that our current workhorse, the CF-18 was chosen, after a detailed comprehensive OPEN COMPETITION (gasp!).

Serious concerns have been raised about the performance and cost of the F-35. I can't think of a military that takes its job as seriously as the Israelis, and they have a lot of problems with the F-35:

There are many modern aircraft that can fill Canada's needs. Put out the tender, evaluate the bidders on various criteria, and choose the best offer. It ain't rocket science. And it is standard DND procurement policy. What are the Cons so afraid of?