The Joint Strike Fighter

Our next war bird

Canada has said yes to the F-35 Lightning II.

What’s of particular note here is the F-35 is billed as the Joint Strike Fighter – and the ‘Joint’ is applied in many ways when you look at it on a global scale.

For purely U.S. purposes, the Joint Strike Fighter moniker is based on the fact that it’s a ‘joint service’ aircraft i.e. that 3 branches of the U.S. armed forces will be flying it – the Navy (carrier adapted), the Air Force (base variant), and the Marines (vertical take off and landing variant).

When you step back to a macro scale view and look at how the F-35 applies to the global fighter scene, Joint Strike Fighter takes on a new meaning.

Eleven countries from around the world have contributed money to the development of the F-35: the United Kingdom, Canada, the Netherlands, Italy, Turkey, Australia, Norway, Denmark, Israel, Singapore, and the United States (which contributed the lion’s share of spending).

The idea behind this venture was to supply all the countries involved with a common aircraft that would make joint operations between the stated nations more seamless – as well as allowing each state access to cutting edge technologies that they may not have been able to afford independently.

The end part of the previous paragraph is where countries like Canada specifically come in to play: Canada has nowhere near the tax base or military funding to develop a cutting edge fighter that could dominate other world player’s planes.

I don’t say that in an effort to kick my nation’s pride, but to only state an honest fact.

Also, there is some doubt as to whether our southern neighbors would take kindly to our designing and producing an air superiority fighter that could easily compete with their own: think back to Canada’s one proud moment in fighter design history (the vaunted Avro Arrow) and you’ll see how tragically influential the United States can be when it demands to be the kid on the block with the best toys.

Regardless, Canada’s aging fleet of CF-18s are quickly going to surpass their ‘best before’ date as they are all part of McDonnell Douglas’s first production run of the F/A 18 airframe – first flying for Canada in 1982.

In comparison, the United States has mostly moved to the newer F/A-18 Super Hornet – which has many performance upgrades over the Canadian legacy models, including better avionics and softer radar signature which are derived from being completely new planes as compared to modified airframes.

Yes, our CF-18s have been subject to regular maintenance and technical upgrades over the years – but for all intents and purposes, they are dinosaurs when compared to the rest of the G8 countries’ air force assets.

There are anecdotal stories that kick around the global fighter pilot communities of how Canadian Air Force staff had to make the rounds and beg for spare parts during our fighter jet commitments to U.N. and NATO missions in places like Kosovo and missions like Desert Storm – such as asking the Spaniards for spare batteries, etc.

How are we – as Canadians – to take pride in our military forces when they have to depend on the charity of other nations when we get into a pinch?

Does that make your heart swell with patriotism?

On second thought, forget I brought that up…

Canadian F-18s are aging and will soon have flown so many flight hours that their air frames will be considered unsafe to fly by technical standards.

We can not afford to send our top-notch pilots up into the air against threats to our global and national interests if there is a real chance that the jet will disintegrate under the stress loads that tactical maneuvers place upon a plane.

So here we are in 2010, nearly 30 years after we acquired our last fighter.

Why are tactical fighters important to Canadians?

What else will keep the newly ‘assertive’ Russian bombers out of our air space?

How else will we be able to fulfill our duties to NORAD, NATO, and the United Nations when it comes to rogue states?

Are we to just send along Good Luck cards from Hallmark?

No.

We need our boys to be in the thick of it, pulling Canada’s weight when it comes down to the nitty gritty – when some nation out there needs it’s ass kicked and priorities straightened out.

For Canada to have a voice in those kinds of matters, we need something to punctuate our sentences.

And nothing says that like a heat-seeking missile up the bad guy’s tail pipe.

We, as Canadians, are a peaceful lot and desire diplomacy over war – that’s a given… and a lot of us may not find spending $16,000,000,000 on 64 planes (including maintenance costs) to be a very good deal.

However, to paraphrase a very smart man, war is diplomacy when all other means have failed.

Sometimes, you have to stop using the carrot and start using the stick.

Wouldn’t you rather have a bigger stick than our potential adversaries?

The F-35 is that bigger stick.

It will be the first time Canada has owned a stealth fighter – one that is all but invisible to enemy radar… which is a very good thing when our young men are up in the skies against deadly forces – as any advantage in air-to-air and air-to-ground combat can be the difference between a pilot coming home in once piece and coming home in a body bag(s).

No, the F-35 isn’t the razor sharp portion of the cutting edge when it comes to fighter planes – that would be the F-22, and the United States isn’t sharing that aircraft with anybody.

Also, I must acknowledge the fact that the F-35 is years behind schedule and has saddled the U.S. Defense Department with numerous cost overruns – but in the end, the technology is still sound: whereas the F-22 returns a radar signature equal to that of a metal marble, the F-35 bounces back a profile of a metal golf ball  – which is still smaller than most birds.

Plus, the jet comes with cutting edge sensor suites, futuristic situational awareness systems for the pilot, and more weapons carrying capability than any plane of similar size – which leaves the F-35 as a solid No. 2 contender.

And this is where I must part ways with my preferred Canadian political party and the official Canadian Opposition – the Liberals.

The current federal Liberal leader, Michael Ignatieff, says that the Defense Department should have tendered the contract out to more manufacturers – instead of just handing it to Lockheed Martin on a silver platter… perhaps considering the No. 3 contender, the Eurofighter Typhoon.

From a strictly business standpoint, that would be a prudent idea – but when you take that business to the level of a nation state, there are many other things to consider: jobs for Canadians… wise investment of dollars Canada has already spent… how our armed forces will operate when hand in hand with other global players, etc.

Canada’s interest in the F-35 was initiated by the previous Liberal government when it was in charge of Canada’s future – to the tune of more that $100,000,000.

To simply walk away now would be a monumental waste of money, and a missed opportunity of epic proportions.

Iggy calls it a boondoggle, and is threatening to kill the contract the second the Liberal party takes power again.

I’m sorry, Iggy… but I’m going to have to step back and call you an idiot who would prefer to use a think-tank approach to solving skirmishes.

In this one instance, I have to painfully concede that the conservative mindset is correct: the candle with the biggest wick wins.

This blogger may not speak for all Canadians at all times, but I’m pretty sure I speak with one voice when I say this:

We want to win.

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See video of the F-35 here

Royal Canadian Air Force

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1 Comment

  1. I don’t think the F-35 will meet Canada’s needs in terms of air-to-air capability. A dedicated air-to-air platform like the Eurofighter Typhoon — which has outperformed the F-22 in head-to-head war games — would be a good supplementary purchase, I think.

    But I look forward to seeing how well our troops on the ground will be served by this predator.

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