Controversial F-35 jets make an appearance at B.C. air show

The Liberal Party campaigned on a promise not to buy the planes but has stayed in the purchasing group

Samuel King Jr./U.S. Air Force/AP

Samuel King Jr./U.S. Air Force/AP

ABBOTSFORD, B.C. — The new-age fighter jet once poised to replace Canada’s aging CF-18 fleet, but whose ballooning price tag and controversial selection process threw its purchase into doubt, has made its inaugural visit to Canada.

A pair of F-35 stealth fighters roared into British Columbia on Thursday in preparation for the annual Abbotsford International Airshow.

The next-generation aircraft, whose development has been marred with delays and cost overruns, has been the source of ongoing angst in Ottawa as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government grapples with finding a replacement for the country’s long-outdated fighter jets.

Trudeau told the House of Commons in June that the F-35 “does not work and is far from working,” two months before a surprise announcement last week that the aircraft is ready for combat.

Lt.-Col. George Watkins, a pilot with the U.S. air force’s 34th Fighter Squadron, flew one of two operational planes to B.C. from Hill Air Force Base in Utah. Speaking on the tarmac in front of one of the aircraft, he described flying the F-35 as “awesome.”

“I’m very confident in the combat declaration that we made, combat ready,” Watkins said.

“Being a combat commander in a fighter squadron, I personally wouldn’t go to war with any other jet beside the F-35 right now. The stealth technology and the advanced radar and the threat detection system makes me more capable so I can strike first and it makes it so that my pilots are more survivable in war time.”

The federal Liberal government promised during last year’s election campaign that it would hold an open competition to replace Canada’s aging CF-18 fleet, but it also pledged not to buy the F-35.

Former prime minister Stephen Harper said in 2010 Canada would buy 64 of the stealth fighters, a commitment that was derailed when the Liberals came to power last year.

Lockheed Martin, the U.S.-based defence contractor overseeing the F-35’s development, has since asked the Canadian government for the chance to compete in an open and fair competition to provide the next generation of airplanes to Canada’s military.

Still, the federal government paid more than $30 million earlier this year to remain part of a consortium of nine countries backing the development of the fifth-generation aircraft.

Canada has contributed more than $311 million to the group, which ensures it an eventual discount to buy the jet as well as access in the meantime to lucrative development contracts.

The government said Canadian companies have received US$812 million in contracts since Canada’s first F-35 payment in 1997.

The rival aircraft vying to become Canada’s next fighter jet is Boeing’s F/A-18 Super Hornet, which was also scheduled to make an appearance at Abbotsford’s air show.

A published report earlier this year said the Liberals had decided to purchase the Super Hornet as an interim measure to buy time for landing on a long-term fix for the Air Force. That prompted an outcry from the Opposition Conservatives over what they described as a rigged process that allowed Boeing to “jump the queue.”

Canada bought its current fleet of CF-18s in the 1980s. The jets were designed to last 20 years, but the former Conservative government opted to spend $400 million to overhaul the fleet to keep the 77 aircraft in operation until at least 2025.


Controversial F-35 jets make an appearance at B.C. air show

  1. Trudeau’s pledge not to allow F-35 in a competition was illegal. The PM just can’t disqualify a firm from competing for a major contract “cause”, “cause Harper is for it” or “cause it polled well”.

    This is why they’ve now discovered how urgent an “interim” fighter is. If equipment is needed urgently different rules apply. If we will shortly have a “capability gap” then sole sourcing may be lawful. Just to make sure we don’t have NAFTA problems the GOC says it wants to but Boeing Super Hornets. That “gap” is false. A lie to cover a illegal campaign promise.

    A F-35A with an engine now costs about $ 153 million CAD. Lockheed says the price will come down by 2019 but will still be huge. That’s a lot and operating costs are likely to be higher than the competition. If we had a competition and the F-35 competition was substantially less expensive and performed the tasks listed in a fairly written Statement of Requirements (a stretch given the pull from the GOC and the air force to write the SOR so that their preferred candidate wins) then by all means buy it.

    The way we’re going will result in a massive law suit we will lose. For example we’ll probably get stuck with a ~ $160 million penalty for mischief involved in the recent army truck buy. A similar penalty for fighters would be over $ 3 billion.

  2. It’s easy to get out of the F35 contract, and we should. Requirements have changed, drastically.

    The latest Artificial Intelligence (AI) for Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicles (UCAVs) now bests human pilots, and ‘best’ is being nice to the humans. Even if the AI (named ALPHA, look it up) is flying a deliberately crippled aircraft (at this point simulated… don’t want these things flying around in real planes yet), it still stands a good chance of wining against top-gun humans. Oh, and the best part about this… the code runs on a Raspberry Pi. This isn’t IBM’s Watson were talking about here… it’s $35 for the real deal, and Chinese clones are cheaper. The university researchers that did this (UC’s Ernest and Cohen) published a paper with enough information on their process that others will be able to follow their lead.

    Human pilots are done. Seriously, this is a game-changing event. By the time we had a fleet of operational F35 fighters, Bombardier could probably build a fleet of UCAVs to take them out.

    The best approach right now is, if necessary, buying a few of the newer F18Es that we could integrate into the existing fleet. Just enough to keep the Americans happy. Just enough to tide us over before the UCAV arms race settles down to a predictable level.

    I understand how impressed the pilots are that get to fly the F35… but, sorry, you’re being automated out of a job, soon. If it’s any consolation, so are the truck drivers, and the taxi drivers, and the…

    • There is no contract to buy F-35s. There never was. One of the problems the Tories inflicted on themselves was saying there was when there was not.

      What the “requirements” are as stated in the final SOR will be contentious. Beyond the ability to replicate what a CF-18 does t’s a matter of opinion what they should be. The air force will want “stealth” to be included and the LPC will not.

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