The F-35: Not just costly but obsolete

To aviation nerds, the Joint Strike Fighter is looking more and more like an ugly mutt

Costly. Obsolete. It's getting hard to justify buying this jet.

Chris Wattie/Reuters

In the bitter parliamentary dispute over the costs of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, which Canada has spent hundreds of millions helping to develop but may still not buy, there is an awful lot of “What did they know and when did they know it?” Predictably, as the Harper government’s position on the sole-source contracting has become less and less defensible, the debate is shifting to the bottom line: is the F-35 a good aircraft or not? It has become apparent that National Defence bureaucrats and Conservative ministers bet heavily on American military-industrial competence, and the voters may still forgive almost anything if Canada ends up with a cool Canadian-badged airplane that dominates the enemy in the battle theatre.

But this is the scary thing for the F-35’s defenders: to aviation nerds, the Joint Strike Fighter is looking more and more like an ugly mutt. Consider one important example of how our commitment to the JSF as a NATO partner has gone awry: the cutting-edge helmet-mounted display that was meant to help make up for the speed and manoeuvrability limitations of a single-engined stealth fighter. In the early days of JSF promotion, the user interface was touted as being at least as important to the project as the aerodynamic qualities of the airframe itself. Pilots would be sent into a fight with “360-degree situational awareness,” day or moonless night, giving them long seconds to defend themselves while opponents in more traditional aircraft were still figuring out which way was up.

Fast-forward to May 2010, when, according to the new auditor general’s report on F-35 procurement, the Public Works department began to question the need for a sole-source contract for new fighters. According to public-service rules, Public Works warned National Defence, there had to be an open competition for the contract unless it could be shown in advance that the F-35 was the only plane that met defence requirements. No problem, said National Defence; in literally one day it cooked up a list of those requirements, including one item that basically specified the F-35’s visionary 360-degree helmet display. The stated rationale for buying the F-35 thus depends quite heavily on this one piece of technology, even if one takes the word of F-35 proponents that it is a legitimate operational necessity.

And yet the F-35 is losing even this rigged game. In March, Aviation Week reported that Lockheed Martin, the F-35 prime contractor, put out a request for proposals on a completely new helmet-mounted display system that would “make use of commercial, off-the-shelf night-vision goggles.” Lockheed had announced in November that Vision Systems International, which built the existing system being tested in F-35 training, was being given a contract to fix a problem with “jitter affecting the display symbology” on the helmet displays. Now Lockheed wants an independent scratch-built backup—one that may in turn require a redesign of the F-35 cockpit and external sensors.

This is not the kind of thing one likes to see happening 19 years after the creation of the Joint Strike Fighter program and 11 years after Lockheed Martin beat out Boeing for the U.S. contract. The F-35 looks a lot like the second coming of the B-2 bomber; a high-tech military megaproject on which billions are gambled, and that ends up being a half-obsolete curio by the time all the kinks are worked out. The B-2 was designed for an era of strategic bombing in wars between superpowers; when the Cold War ended and an era of asymmetric warfare began, it was left with little justification, and the fleet has flown few sorties, considering its expense.

The development of unmanned, remote-controlled aerial drones is rapidly eroding the rationale for the F-35 in a similar way. More broadly, the existing American system of military procurement is beginning to look hopelessly slow and cumbersome in a period of fast, decentralized technological progress. Our military leaders and bureaucrats, influenced by hungry contractors and by notions of continental amity, married into that system early. They are, quite naturally, still offering the last spasms of a defence of that decision. But, as the Conservatives are quick to point out, we haven’t bought any planes yet. We are still free to treat sunk costs as sunk costs, and to impose proper public-sector purchasing practices on a military-industrial field that has too long considered itself exempt from them.


The F-35: Not just costly but obsolete

  1. Pilots would be sent into a fight with “360-degree situational
    awareness,” day or moonless night, giving them long seconds to defend
    themselves while opponents in more traditional aircraft were still
    figuring out which way was up


    Perfect for those dog fights our air force is continually fighting. Take that Red Baron!

    • Haha, let’s buy sopwith camels!  McKay = Snoopy.

    • The idea is to deter the other guy from getting into a fight.  You do that with superior firepower.

      Inferior or equal firepower starts wars and gets people killed.  I suppose I could put this another way:  peaceniks get people killed.

      • Right Gaunilon. Because Canada is constantly under threat of air attack from its hostile neighbours. Wait! Canada doesn’t have any hostile neigbours. These obsolete useless planes are just giant phallic toys for the boys in our government to brag about. Next up nuclear submarines! Brought to you by the year 1970.

        • Well, Neville, I guess we have the same number of hostile neighbors we had when the last few wars got started because someone decided the Allies didn’t have enough firepower to hold them in check.

          • What wars are you referring to exactly? The “allies”? You do know that this is not 1938 right?

          • Oddly enough, I do. I also know that the same mistakes that led to major wars in 1914, 1938, and 1950 are still prevalent today and will still get a lot of people killed if allowed to spread.

            One of those is the absurd notion that we don’t need force of arms because we don’t have any proximate enemies.

            Let me be blunt: people (like yourself) who laugh off the need for Canada to have an effective fighting force because “this is not 1938” are going to get a lot of people killed, as people like yourself did in 1938.

        • Could we have at least one aircraft carrier – I always think they look so cool. And we could probably rent it out to US movie makers.

  2. Apparently the JSF program assumes that whichever enemy it ends up attacking will not have newer/better technology by the time the hypothetical attack happens.  How realistic is that?

    • Well to be fair, major technology updates are pretty common:

      And though our F-18s are decades old, there’s almost nobody who doesn’t have F-18s who would have a hope against one. That does raise questions about whether we’re buying more technology than we need, but the counter-argument is that the goal in millitary procurement isn’t to prepare for a fair fight, but to ensure any fight is so unfair nobody will want to get into one.

      •  Deterrence is a fair point, but it seems to me that we should balance the goal in military procurement with the reality of cost and needs, and what we need is something with a longer range than the F-35 to patrol our borders.

        • Not sure what exactly you mean by “patrol” in this context. the RCAF has planes like the CP-140A Arcturus that are patrol planes: four turboprop engines, big sensor systems, huge range. When you need a fighter jet somewhere, you usually send it straight to the trouble spot (and refuel it in-flight if it’s very far away).

          Without claiming the F-35 is the greatest thing since turbines, the combat radius is about twice that of the F-18.

          •  Maybe ‘patrol’ is the wrong word.  I was thinking particularly of the recent incident in which a Korean Airlines flight from Vancouver was escorted back to Comox by F-18s from Portland Oregon after a bomb threat was received – the nearest Canadian fighters are in Cold Lake, Alberta.  The distance between Cold Lake and Vancouver is about 650 miles (as the crow flies) plus the distance the airliner was out from Vancouver; the range of the F-35 is 600 miles, so F-35s stationed in Cold Lake are not of much use in incidents off the west coast.

          • They were F-15s.

          •  Regardless of the patrol ta tic being useless, ever hear of mid-air refuelling.  So what’s wrong with NORAD co-operation, i.e F-15s from Oregon???

      • It would be nice if the Minister of Defence knew this and was ablle to tell Canadians.  It seems to me he has no clue this might be a rationale for the F-35.  On the other hand he certainly talks a lot about the supposed job oppotunities the program might bring for Canadian firms; a Keynesian concept the Harperites have convinced their supporters they are completely against. 

    •  Please don’t compare the F-35 to the Russian job nor the Chinese job.  The Suhhoi is not in the same class, although the Chinese one will be.  Since when was Wikipedia an authority on modern combat planes?  Anyone can post anything there.

      •  The F-35 is obsolete

        Wikipedia is as accurate as Britannica…and sources are usually at the bottom of the page.

        • OrginalEmily1, explain how you think the F-35 is obsolete? The only criticism I saw was for the F-18E Super Hornet and the Eurofighter.

          •  All fighter planes are obsolete since the invention of ICBMs

            The missiles would be here before our pilots could even scramble….and they couldn’t take down ICBMs in any case.

            Large countries would be using ICBMs….small countries can’t reach us even if they had air forces.

            So unless we’re planning on bombing other countries….like unarmed Afghanistan Iraq etc….we don’t need them.

          • Emily, you  know little of what you are talking about.  The purpose of fifth generation fighters is not to shoot down bombers.  They are an all-round fighter-bomber themselves and are primarily an attack weapon.  I doubt if even China would use its ICBMs as they are too costly to use with high explosives. But the new Chinese fighter in development would be the type of aircraft.  I draw your attention to the latest issue of the Economist which discusses China’s rapid and comprehensive high-tech rearmament.

          •  @blacktopold:disqus

            Dude…who are you fighting?

            We won’t be doing any ‘dog-fights’ with China.

            Try and get past the Cold War eh?

          • Emily, 

            An Air Force and Defence ministry in the post-Cold War does NOT base it’s planned and normal Fighter recapitalization programmes on whether or not it will be fighting one particular country in particular or another in 10 or 20 years out!  That’s simply not what goes into the decision making process, ie ‘what do we need to Fight country X,Y, or Z in aerial combat tomorrow!

            It’s a more comprehensive and strategic assessment of what core next-gen requirements and capabilities (and yes, affordability) are needed in the replacement platform to replace the retiring tactical aircraft, in order to remain credible and competitive in respect to rapidly upgrading and modernizing future world tactical air forces!

            It is a fundamental responsibility of Air Force policymakers to ensure such sufficient recapitalization decisions are made.  It’s not more difficult or controversial than that.

          • Are you talking about Canadian Air Force policy makers?

          •  The F-35 and its companions when there are any are being developed for the next 40 years. You certainly can’t look that far ahead nor can the Economist but their assessment of China’s arming as a probable event is certainly realistic.  Yes I was a cold warrior and a hot warrior but that doesn’t prevent one from looking ahead.  I am afraid you are the one thinking about what has past plus being an inexplicable apologist for China – but then you speak Chinese in your household, you said.   The article also said that while there are 5 million Chinese outside Chines borders, the Chinese expect there to be 100 million in the foreseeable future.  They are exporting more than electronics, it seems..  

          •  @blacktopold:disqus


            Well hon, you’re a dead warror now….China hasn’t attacked anybody in thousands of years.  There are much easier ways than war to gain what you want, and the Chinese are very patient people.

            in 40 years or even in 20 we won’t be fighting the Chinese, and certainly not with antiquated WWII crap

            Us Celtic-Canadians speak Chinese as it’s the third largest language in Canada. We outlasted Rome, and we’ll outlast the US nonsense.

            Get a grip on yourself.

          • Lotsa life left in the old bod. Glad you’re boning up on your Chinese; may come in  handy some day.   China hasn’t attacked anyone? Chinese attacked Chinese after War2.  Convenient to lay Genghis to the Mongolians but they may not be  or Han but China adopted them as their own.  And  what about Tibet – oh yeah they were just reclaiming that. And will they reclaim Taiwan as well?
            Easier ways? Yeah, by absorption. Like the Borg.

            Emily 1 you should swim in the shallow end of the pool, you have the wrong stroke  for the deep end.

            How do you explain the quiet reporting back to China among immigrants?

            Hmm, never heard of a Chinese Celtic Canadian. Is that anything like an Scottish-Irish?
            You don’t make me laugh LOL, COL.

          •  I deal with people in China and Taiwan every day.

            And after WWII, China had a civil war….most Chinese had more than
            enough of the century of humiliation. Tibet has been part of China since
            the 12th century, and Taiwan was always part of China.

            LOL immigrants don’t report back to China….there is no need to.  We have ze web.

            My family comes from Ireland, Scotland and Man….all Celtic I’m afraid.  Although ya know….they’ve found:


            Stop being frightened of everybody fergawdsake. We’re all human, and we all have the same DNA.

          • Yeah, there may be the same DNA  but there was no DNA difference between the Nazis and other Germans and Austrians; no DNA difference between Soviets and their enemies.  There is a difference; it is called irreconcilable politics.  Disputes over resources and food. Differences of religion – Ireland for example.

            The belief that blissful avoidance of evidence gave us War 2. As long as China is in it’s early recovery and economic development stage what you say is likely true, but reasonable caution is wise.  While you are doing business in China and Taiwan perhaps you might open your eyes.
            Incidentally, you say  immigrants don’t need to report, they have the Web.  Only twits tweet.  It is not secure, nor is email.  The published evidence is that China does contact its emigrated population for information.

            There is an old saying that nobody changes China, it changes others.

            I think the principle of self determination is still valid. The Tibetans and the Taiwanese Chinese  determined that they did not want to be part of Communist China.  Are you actually saying that life in Communist China is preferable to a progression toward determining themselves what kind of country they want to live in?  The people in Tiananmen Square didn’t think so. 

            You have nothing to brag about Celtic roots.  So have a hell of a lot of Canadians, So what? So have I.

            While we cannot foresee the future we should not close our eyes to the evidence.  

          •  @yahoo-JAMLWN5XUVXPWLCFF35LPNZPG4:disqus

            So a) we have no idea what will be going on 40 years from now, but b) we figure the F35 will cover it.


            Pssst….there will be no more aerial combat. Snoopy and the Red Baron are ancient history.

          • Emily,

            No, I didn’t say or imply that the F-35 is the solution to RCAF’s recapitalization (Hornet replacement) requirements.  I only stated that an Air Force does not replace a retiring tactical fighter in the post-Cold-War with a pre-conceived plan in mind to fight a particular hostile opponent within the following 10-20 yrs.  Thus, I mentioned nothing about 40 yrs and do not advocate for the F-35 as the solution to RCAF’s CF-18’s replacement programme.

            But your point that a modern Air Force should NOT have any requirements, capabilities or training allocated for potential aerial combat in the future is completely not true.  That would simply be an irresponsible assumption made by any Air Force leadership, be it PLAF or RCAF. 

            I think you you’re getting too emotionally involved in your own absolutist opinions.

            – aquanut posting –

          •  Generals are always ready for the last war……and that’s what you’ve done again.

          • No, all I’ve done is respond to your comments, such as your claim ‘there will never be aerial combat in the future’.  There is no evidence to support such a claim as this… unfortunate, but the truth is the future will most likely indeed see aerial combat as part of conflict between members.

            And it’s a simple responsibility and basic requirement by ‘Generals’, be they Chinese or Canadian policymakers, to replace old retiring military equipment with competitive, modern equipment!  It’s not more complex to understand than that.

            Now if you and I are arguing that it’s the responsibility of ‘Diplomats’ in the 21st century to reduce tensions and political conflicts and ‘increase’ global cooperation and multi-lateral agreement and mutual benefit as we develop as a global body — to a point where the world can finally begin to demilitarize, demobilize and disarm missiles and bombers et al — then yes, you and I would be in agreement on this responsibility and worthy goal!

          •  You’ve watched Top Gun too many times. LOL

            And I’ve always been a globalist…..a process that’s been underway for a long time now.

          • Well thats very good to hear that both you and I are globalists.  Indeed that’s the only way forward over the next 50+ years to the next level of humanity, civility and world development.  And yes, of course China and Canada and US et al can get their respective ways as they will according to their interests, without having to fire a shot… 

            But I have only watched Top Gun twice, so I’m sorry to say that once again your assessment on what you seem to interpret in this thread and how you perceive others is incorrect :P

            Absolutely there is a requirement by any world Air Force today and in the near-term at least to include next-generation aerial combat capabilities even as raw deterrence, as a basic requirement when replacing retiring platforms with new platforms.

            That is not Top Gun, it’s basic defence planning and a leadership responsibility in an uncertain world still today, unfortunate as that may be… but still evident.  It’s why you are posting your personal opinions on the internet which adds to an interesting conversation, but is why you are not involved with planning PLAAF or RCAF fighter acquisition policies :)

          •  Well the ones involved in acquisition aren’t doing a good job, so that doesn’t work. LOL

          • Emily, Buying any weapon system is terrible waste of money if it can be proven that peaceniks can win any war on the basis of sweet talk,compassion,social jutice racket and global warming/cooling sham.
            Do yo think Emily that the Nazis were defeated by Nobel peace laureates or by some generals like Eisenhower,Patton or Montgomery with superior armaments to their disposal?
            I tend to live decisions concerning any type of weaponry to military experts rather than to delusional peaceniks like you.

          •  You tend to live in 1939…that’s the problem.

            Sweet talk, compassion, social justice…..all bad things I’m sure…..but then I tend to rely more on trade.

            Certainly humans have gotten further ahead when they’ve cooperated and traded than they ever did while killing each other.

          •  ICBM’s are just one threat .. We can not predict future events .. In 15or 25 yrs perhaps some one wants our high arctic territory .. What will we deter them with ? Control of the air allows control of the land below . Obsolete equipment is a death sentence to those that use it . The F18’s are 1970’s design , built in 1980 and are close to being worn out .. We’ll need new aircraft soon. BTW seen recent photos of Chinese carrier?  they will have blue water navy soon . our Forces are in sad need of upgrades ,, Compare Australia’s armed forces to us .. We punch way below our weight

          •  No, we can’t predict future events….so buying an F-35 is a waste of time and money.

            China has already got the plans for the F-35…took em from the BAE in London.

            Planes can be hacked ya know. Totally useless.

            Maybe we could consider not punching, and try talking instead. Like we did with the Antarctic.

          • Emily,
            ICBMs have been in existence since the 1950s.  In all the wars fought since then, they have never once been used.  In contrast, fighter aircraft have played a role in almost every conflict since the introduction of the ICBM.   

            Canada has used its fighter force in the Gulf in 1991, Kosovo in 1999, and Libya in 2011.  There’s no evidence to suggest that Canada won’t need a fighter force for future conflicts.  As for defending Canadian airspace, you might consider that China has recently acquired an aircraft carrier – just the sort of thing needed to project airpower into other countries without the need for ICBMs. 

          •  ‘All the wars’ fought since then have been minor.

            The F-35 is of no use whatever in the defence of Canada, and can only be used in bombing small unarmed nations.

            China can hack all our aircraft….and already have the plans for the F-35…..and in any case, Harper is selling oil to China….so we won’t be going to war with anybody.

          • This need to take out  a Chinese aircraft carrier keeps appearing here and there as the secret reason we need the F 35’s.  Can you explain the scenario where we get to take them out before their planes attack us?

          • Emily,

            You are correct, very few would disagree with your observation that current (and recent past) Canadian policymakers involved with Defence acquisition with respect to the CF-18 replacement programme, are doing a ‘good job’!

            Very true, the current Defence decision makers involved with such replacement decisions need to be replaced themselves with more calculating and more strategically-minded military policy making.

            If you had only said that in your first post, we would not have had to drag this convo on for 2 pages and 3 days.  :)

      • Most observers usually think the Sukhoi is far more advanced, and further along in development, than the Chinese plane.

        If the Russians/Indians can be believed, the Sukhoi PAK will be a better fighter than the F35 (super advanced radars, twin engined, stealthy, more maneuverable, etc.). But the Russians are significantly behind in their development, and have a history of “over-promising and under-delivering” even worse than the Americans.

        But, what’s interesting is that given that the F35 is such a disastrous project, it’s getting harder to credibly deny that the Russians shouldn’t be considered. Would take too long? Same with the F35, it’s all on a spectrum. Probably a lot cheaper (which is why the Indians are so interested). Interoperability? Sounds like baloney and bid-rigging to most skeptical ears. Keep Canadians safe? Might well keep ’em even safer, depending on the completely-baloney elaborate hypothetical scenarios we have to craft in which a Canadian pilot is put in danger (keeping in mind we haven’t lost any in 60 years).

        In the end, this is a terrible scenario to get value for money. The Canadian government is facing a complete lack of information (no idea what it needs, no idea what things’ll cost, no idea if things’ll work), and all of its partners lack credibility on those issues. Bad news overall.

        • sorry – to elaborate, Canada has not lost a plane to enemy fire in 60 years. It has lost many planes due to other reasons.

        •  I think the big difference in the Sukhoi may be in the (lack of)  automated sophistication and inferior engines (?)  – which is not to say that the Russians couldn’t make an attempt at it by stealing stuff as they did with the F-18.  As for the Chinese it would seem that it is further in the future and may well be a full fifth generation as the Chinese are not only adept at automation (from experience in producing Wal-Mart stuff!)  but are even more adept at getting what they want by stealth.

          I think a lot of the problem with the F-35 is not the technology but the outrageous lack of cost control. I refer you to the points I made in this thread some days ago (starting with the need for air superiority) and I am not sure that there are actually serious alternatives. I can’t believe you are seriously suggesting that Canada consider the PAK – not because we were once in a cold war but that it would be insane to buy a plane where we had no control over parts supply and maintenance let alone design. And while I would not disparage the choice of the PAK by the Indians, their potential enemy is the Paks (if you will pardon the pun).(Or maybe China in the far future.)   As someone said on this same thread, the alternatives are all 4.5 rather than 5th generation mainly because of the technical superiority of the F-35.  Actually, in the circumstances, maybe the US should subsidize our purchases!                                  

          As well as cost, the real issue I think is whether we want to be part of a multi-partite arrangement for the future. i.e Is NATO dead? Are we irrevocably allied with the US? (which I believe we are in that we are both in a fairly comprehensive economic North America combination (in addition to Mexico which doesn’t count for much in this scheme of things.)  After all the planning horizon is not necessarily Afghanistan or Libyan type operations but the great unknown in the next 30-40 years which would likely be the life cycle of improved version of fifth generation aircraft (including the the F-35 – just as the Spitfire went through at least 14 versions way back War 2.

            I guess the real question is whether and to what degree does China play in its desire to push American influence off-shore and to what degree the US will allow or be able to influence what happens in that regard. (I refer you to a definitive lead article on the issue in the last issue of The Economist.  That regardless of what Emily1 has said. I think she should stay in the shallow end of the pool in this regard.. 

  3. It is paramount that we provide the men and women in our air force something that isn’t outdated and unsafe to fly like the worn out aircraft they are forced to risk their lives in today. The F35 fighter jets that Canada has opted for are the best choice that we could have made with the budget we had. If we are to continue to be a valid partner in world peace we need the equipment to do so… So quit whining and come to terms with reality… We made our choices and we need to carry this through to completion.

    • Actually, no, we don’t. We can have an actual open process, buy planes at a far better deal, in doing so probably be able to afford more of them. Or switch to technologies that don’t get people killed. Or whatever, the whole point of this story is how rigged the process was, and how with the costs skyrocketing and performance not matching promise, and the fact the jet seems ill suited for our needs, that this is the ultimate boondoogle.

      Our men and women are not best served and protected by overpaying for military equipment, especially that which has a lot of unneeded bells and whistles, and worse, does not have key requirements we can use.

    •  [The F35 fighter jets that Canada has opted for are the best choice that we could have made with the budget we had.]
      Nothing you claim makes sense, not even by the Cons standards. Here’s an idea: A tendered competition to determine what’s best.

      How’s that for rocket-science?
      [We made our choices and we need to carry this through to completion.]
      Even Harper now admits there is no “contract signed”.

      Try and keep up on the subject. We’ve made *NO* choice. DND made one, and it’s a disaster.

  4. The F-35 was never the aircraft we needed if one of it’s primary purposes was to patrol our northern frontier.  If we’re going to engage in preemptive strikes in the middle east instead, however, to defend Haliburton’s interests in the area it MIGHT be the right plane if it can be built to something like the design specs — apparently a highly doubtful scenario.

  5. Chris Wattie of Reuters is writting over his head as he is not an aeronautical engineer, perhaps tommorow he can tell all the neurologists how to perform brain surgery. The real value of the F-35 is in the intergration of its stealth technology, remote sensors, and computer software which all work in harmony to increase its leathality. The F-35 will have probably tweleve million lines of code when it is finished which will take the Russians and the Chineese aerospace industries 20-30 years to duplicate and intergrate in to their fighters.

    • So please, can you now fill us in on brain surgery?

      • Not on brain surgery Keith, but definetly in the field of aeronautics as it is my proffession.

        • Being an experts in aeronautics does not make your opinion “right” and all other opinions “wrong”. I’m quite sure within each profession there is quite a bit of lively debate on issues such as these. The writer is, in large part, putting together opinions from various experts. He’s not just making up this stuff off the top of his head. To dismiss him otherwise is to suggest all professionals and experts in the same field share the exact same opinion, and those not in that field cannot fathom it. Obviously, that would be ludicrous.

          • Hey Joey, I wish there was some actual debate but the only alternatives to the F-35 which are the Eurofighter, the Raffale, and the F-18E Super Hornet were all designed on crude computers that used DOS as an operating system. So unfortunately they lack the advances that Computation Fluid Dynamics (CFD), Computer Aided Design (CAD), Computer Aided Finite Element Anyalsis (FEA),ect,ect,ect.

            In truth the only thing these alternative jet fighters should be considered for is which aviation museums to place them in.

          •  As Emily had mentioned earlier in this thread, something about Generals always fighting the last war, is somewhat ironic that she doesn’t see how her own comment is ironic.

            There are a few choices available for an off-the-shelf fighter design, such as Alloy mentioned above, Super Hornet et al, but they are tools the Generals used to fight the last war.  4th Generation technology designed in the 70 or 80’s. 

            If we want to keep our technological edge over ANY future potential enemy, we can’t be using the old tools.  We must always maintain the advantage in our equipment.

            We cannot see today who, or what the threat may be tomorrow, but we should be prepared to be the best equipped and trained.

            The stealth genie is out of the bottle.  Our future enemies are going full-tilt to develop stealth capabilities and we must stay one or two steps ahead.  We will always have a disadvantage in sheer numbers to a China or Russian(or whomever) enemy, so we must make up for that with sophistication and training.

            All the bells and whistles may be needed in  future conflicts.  Why do so many Canadians seem to think we don’t need the very best equipment?

            After all, we are not buying the next family mini van; we are buying the pointed end of our national defence and our ability to vanquish future enemies.

            Bells and whistles along with stealth will seem very inexpensive when our pilots face real combat against a foe who wasn’t counting pennies when they equipped their air force.

        • Apparently crystal ball gazing is not your forte either.  Why on earth would you make the absurd statement that it would take the Russians or Chineese (sic) 20-30 years to catch up. 
          The unwarranted smugness of Americans concerning their technology lead was was roughed up a bit when Iran managed to hijack an unmanned RQ-170 Sentinel drone through hacking.  The UAV was electronically ambushed and landed intact, safely inside Iran with it’s many “secret systems” available for viewing by anyone Iran chooses to share it with.
          Like it or not, America is an empire in decline and does not have the education, science, and technology market cornered.

        • [ it is my proffession.]
          Really? Since you can neither write nor spell, then I’m a brain surgeon.

          Btw, you’d best do some reading too. You’ll need some help.

          [The F-35 will have probably tweleve million lines of code when it is finished which will take the Russians and the Chineese aerospace industries 20-30 years to duplicate and intergrate in to their fighters. ]

          Oooooh! All that code, and yet it’s still a dog. Maybe if they doubled that again, it would take the Russians and Chinese twice as long to produce something as bad?

        • Any conflict of interest you want to disclose?

    •  Quite right. The ignorance on this thread, as with the editorial is a lack of understanding that wherever our forces are engaged the order of priority  is governed by some of the following:

      1. Our air forces must have air superiority otherwise all other efforts are trumped – land sea and air.  Air superiority  is not just a matter of Sopwith Camel type air fighting, but destroying command and control structures, airfields, drone control centres as well as enemy aircraft.

      1a. As long as we are in co-operative.relationships (NATO, NORAD, UN, whatever) it is pretty important that we all use the same equipment for reasons of command and control, maintenance, parts, repair etc.  Otherwise we would be a gaggle of disparate equipment,.
      2. Questions of range are ameliorated by in-flight refuelling.

      3. Today’s engines are extremely powerful:  witness current cross-ocean airliners that have only two engines. When I was flying it was considered near insanity  to have fewer than four for long over-water flights.

      4. The F-35 concept is hardly obsolete or obsolescent.  The Russians and currently the Chinese can’t come near to the automated sophistication, I suspect as Alloycowboy says above

      5. Drones are the easiest thing to take out if you have air superiority.  Not only the drone itself but it’s control centres (although Nellis AFB is a long reach.
      6. Talk of a “competitive bid” was passed by when Lockheed won the competition for the development. Even one of Canada’s assistant deputy ministers and the Auditor General was ignorant about this, as are the Libs and the NDP.   The process WAS competitive.  The thing is we are not buying Spitfires or Sopwith Camels. Even the Conservative leaders do not seem to understand this – their reaction is to say that the Libs started it years ago.

      7. The carrier based version and the short TO version are for the USN and the US Marines. Not the USAF, the RCAF  or other air forces.
      8. The main problem is the cost.  US developments purchases are not known for cost control.  I suspect the same problem exists in Russian and Chinese developments where it is even more important to keep the truth from being revealed.

      • Your points may be based on ideal wishes and preferences, not objective logic. Canada only needs the ultimate in air superiority if we anticipate that we may someday be in a war against the US. (And we won’t ever have the resources to win that war.) In all other situations, Canada will inevitably be part of an international coalition such as NATO or the UN.

        And to be part of those coalitions, the participants do not need the exact same equipment, only complementary equipment. Canada’s military does not rely on coalition partners for command systems, spare parts and maintenance. Railways across North America don’t standardize on the same locomotives, but they do use the same track guage, signaling systems and communication standards which allows CN trains to operate on American tracks. Commercial airlines do not standardize on one particular manufacturer and model of aircraft, yet they can safely and effectively operate anywhere in the world. Military aircraft are no different. Canada does not need to have F-35s solely because the Americans have it.

        •  There’s where you are wrong , Need and high desirability are not the same thing. 
          And we are closest to the Americans – note the effectiveness of a common airplane the F-18 recently operating out of Italy. . Your point about air superiority only being necessary id we at war with the US is absolute nonsense.  It is required now in any battle area.


          • Were the British, French and others also flying only F-18s in that same coalition operation?

          • I have no idea.  Our relationships are with the Americans, unlikely the Brits and certainly not the French.

          • You might want to educate yourself a bit more on Canada’s foreign policies, NATO, Commonwealth and other formal relationships.

          •  Been there; done that. What’s that got to do with the detail of who was flying what in Libya. .

          •  blackopold is pretty much in a tailspin by now.  Will he have the sense to hit eject?

      • It’s not important that we use the same equipment. In fact it’s a bad idea.

        First it won’t happen- the French, Germans, Japan, Spaniards, Aussies,Turks, Brits…. will all fly other planes. Large countries buying F-35 aren’t repalcing their entire fleets.

        Secondly everyone flying the same plane with the same software poses a risk (highly unlikely) of one enemy technological innovation rendering the entire fleet inoperable.

        Thirdly the only case were the US wouldn’t have guaranteed air supremacy in a situation where our land based fighters could join in would be WW 3 at which point our six or twelve fighters become irrelevant.

        • 1.  NATO and NORAD have been attempting to use as much common equipment as possible for years. Last time I looked Spain, France,Japan, Aussies are not part of either grouping. Example of Libya where US potential supply backup of F-18s in Italy.  We sure weren’t using Canadian bombs and rockets??  I don’t think we plan to work with Russia or China  or Bula-bula in West Fartstan.

          2. Highly unlikely.

          3. I’d be very careful about stipulating “only cases”   That has been a trap for many a planner. 

    • In your haste to offer your two cents on this piece, you obviously didn’t take the time to carefully read it.

      Chris Wattie of Reuters is credited as the photographer of the stock image which accompanied this piece. It was authored by “the editors.”

      • Thanks for pointing that out David, I guess Macleans bares the sole responsibilty for this poorly researched article.

    • Thank God the Chinese and Russians aren’t capable of stealing technology.  We’d be  in real trouble if they could…

    • Are you an Engineer, Alloy Cowboy, let alone an Aero?  All you posts, to date, suggest you don’t have a clue.

    • That is, it’d take’em years if they didn’t already have them

    •  You should say the F35 “may do this or that”. The plane is in development. It may eventually do what the salesmen say it will but at what cost and how much of that capability will be really needed.

      Since the US governemnt has been riddled with spies since 1944 declaring when the Russian or Chinese will get its secrets is a bit optimistic.

  6. I recall that there were news stories that the plans for these fighters were sold by spies on the black market. Therefore, It is probably that the Chinese, and perhaps the Russians, already know all the inside details about these “fighters.” It is not necessary to know the details to reasonably presume that fighting against people who already knew the details about your weapons would be disadvantageous. Moreover, the basic problem is that any serious use of such weapons in modern wars risks runaway destruction of the whole world from weapons of mass destruction.

    We need to go through profound scientific intellectual revolutions to rethink what our murder systems could be, and how death control devices fit into those murder systems. New age warfare, anyone? We should radically change our ideas about what our purposes are, and how to operate money and murder systems DIFFERENTLY!

  7. The euro fighter is is ready to go screw the
    U.S. they screw us constantly softwood lumber. agriculture, pipelines time to pull trade from the U.S. they need us more than we need crappy GM cars.

  8.     The B-2, a “half-obsolete curio”?… The author couldn’t be further from the truth.  The B-2 is by no means NOW, nor will it be for some time to come, obsolete.  B-2s and Raptors are the ONLY manned aircraft that will be tasked with directly breaking down the types of IADS (Pak-Fas, A-50s, J-20s, S-400s) that the JSF Team keeps telling everyone the F-35 will handle – Not a chance. 
        As for the comment that the B-2 has not flown too many missions:  Another misnomer; but regardless, it doesn’t matter how many missions you fly when you’re taking out 2 dozen critical targets in a single pass, in airspace you can’t or wouldn’t put an F-15, -18, or -35 into without serious support.  Somehow that fact eluded the author.
        There is almost NO comparison to be had between the F-35 and the B-2.  The idea that they both illustrate what happens when you shoot for a target cost and then wittle down numbers doesn’t apply either – The B-2 cost a lot to develop, not least of which is because of its size and technology; but even with B-2 numbers cut to 1/5 the original target procurement, you STILL get huge capability.  With the F-35, EVEN IF the build projection is hit, you have an aircraft whose cost projected is about 3 times the target (at this point, but will likely be higher) PLUS you get the added benefit of supposedly CRITICAL capabilities you can pay tons for later, if they pan out at all.  That’s a fool’s wager!

  9. Oh my…it’s the wrong thing
    Let’s get drones!

  10. I guess it boils down to this:  If your politician asked you to foot the bill and commit to the purchase of something whose cost, capabilities, and delivery time were based on a PowerPoint, a “best-case scenario”, and some “classified” info you’re not important enough to share with, what would you say? 
    Obviously, too many of the wrong people decided this was the right thing to do, with money that isn’t even theirs to begin with.  The lack of accountability and good stewardship of taxpayers’ hard-earned money is sickening.

  11. If the F35 is all ready obsolete what does that make the 4.5 gen aircraft that some people are suggesting that we purchase instead!

    • More cost-effective.

      •  And ready to fly.

  12. The Edsel really was not much worse than any other large car of its vintage.

    • It was a marketing problem, not a technical problem. Just as bad as if you had mounted a huge phallis on the radiator.

  13. If the Israelies can make do with F15s, then we should be able to also.  Not that our pilots; or anyone else’s pilots, are up to their standards.

    • Isreal is part of the f-35 program.

    •  [Not that our pilots; or anyone else’s pilots, are up to their standards.]
      Don’t let you last name and background cloud your judgement.

      Cdn pilots are trained and qualified to a considerably higher standard that *most* US pilots and Israeli.

      Perhaps you should move to Israel?

  14. The magic bullet airplane that, with different versions, could save money by doing everything; air to air, air to ground, serve all forces and be their ideal platform does not exist.  The complexity and attendant costs will provide an exorbitantly expensive, yet mediocre, short term “solution” that we will regret.   
    India has purchased Sukhoi and MiG aircraft from the Russians with outstanding results and recently agreed to buy the Rafale from France after a competition with the Eurofighter Typhoon.  Heaven forbid we should ever look beyond the USA and conduct an open, transparent competition for our needs.

  15. This article is emotional and biased. So much opinion from people who know little about future warfare and would wet their pants if confronted on the street. While I am dubious about what is right, the discussion below is of little help in informing. This plane is expensive and late. However, it was derived through a rigorous process of models and new technology..This is not like a competitive tender for a truck.The comparison is more like estimating the cost of a future ipad 6 when we only now have ipad 3.
    In the past, mixing on going current account expenses such as fuel, maintenance and pilots with the capital cost of initial purchase was not done. While buried in some manual of budget process, 25yrs was required, and thus appears in an audit variance, it makes little sense in the real world. From my memory, this did appear in 2010 when it was pointed out by the Parliament budget supervisor that 25 years was not used. The information is now just a repeat.
    When the projected costs are excessive, then the government should pull out. This should occur only after a tough analysis of other jets. War is hell, and I do not want our military going into engagements with second hand equipment like they did in the Bulkans.

    • That is what the F35 is designed to do – attack other sovereign nations. Why would we, in support of NATO or the UN, be buying an aircraft capable of attacking third world nations. That makes no sense to me. Do Canadians want to be a part of that organization? I think not.

      •  because there will be 3000 of these pretty much surrounding china and russia. seems like a no brainer to be a part of this fleet.

        i magine a major world incident. all 3k could scramble and be taking out strategic targets within minutes.

        Some of the variants can be hidden in a jungle or strategically along a boarder and take off from the ground. All with the radar signature of a sparow.

  16. To Emily1.Gee and I thought Celtic Canadian s were smart.. But Chines Celt is something new. The only dog fights now are what happens when you don’t leash your mutt.

  17. I’m not a huge fan of the F-35, but until Canada resurrects its once top-notch aerospace industry, what alternative is there?

    •  Lots, and all better in every respect.

  18. We don’t need the most expensive fighter plane in the world to patrol the skies over Canada. While we may need a few F35s to meet our commitments to NATO and the UN, we certainly don’t need 65 of them. Our F18s, or even a less expensive aircraft will do just fine for national defense. Even then, how often do our F18s take to the skies over Canada anyway? 

  19. I quite honestly think that our generals have more loyalty and admiration for the US government than their own country and its interests. This starts with extensive cooperation, being sent on training to the US, being installed into subordinate commands in the US military establishment worldwide. Just like the Romans enjoyed the use and command  of good quality soldiers of their Italian allies to conquer the mediterranean, so to does the US enjoy using our small but high quality armed forces to maintain their hegemony in the world. As a proud Canadian whose ancestors fought yankees out of our country in the war of 1812, this is very sad. 

  20. F-35 is neither true 5th gen or very stealthy.  It was designed to be cheap and lost many 4.5-5th gen capabilities such as supersonic flight without afterburner (for longer range and lower heat signatures).

    It’s missing the long range A2A heat seeking sensor found in foreign aircraft. It has to use radar and this emits signals other jets can pick up passively. As well as picking up the JSF on heat sensor.

    The promised (but so far failed) 360 degree out of cockpit visuals is not a JSF-unique feature. Also, the internal weapons bays are small and to carry even half as many missiles like Russian or Chinese jets they would have to be also carried externally. Again producing higher signatures.

    The F-35 radar can’t rotate its disc so its limited to a 60 degree scan (30 degree off its nose) while foreign aircraft can scan in excess of 100 degrees enabling them to both scan sideways and turn away from a target when firing a missile.

    There’s no double-seat version either a valuable asset in tactics today. Alternative aircraft work for the majority of NATO allies in fact most of the NATO countries thinking of buying F-35 also buy European aircraft that are better suited for air defense rather than bombing Iran.


    • You’re factually challenged here. 
      F-35 is not as stealthy as the F-22, but it’s still a stealth fighter.  That’s more than anybody else can say about their aircraft other than the prototype Russian PAK-FA and Chinese J-20. 
      F-35 was designed to be affordable – not the same thing as cheap.  The F-16 and F-18 were developed to be affordable counterparts to the F-15 and F-14, for example. 
      The F-35 has infrared track & scan – the AA/AAQ-40. It also has an electronically scanned radar with low probability of intercept frequency hopping capabilities.
      The 360° awareness IS unique to the F-35.  Other aircraft have helmet-mounted sights, but that’s not the same thing.
      Your assertions about the virtues of 2-seat aircraft aren’t particularly well-supported.  PAK-FA, J-20, Su-35, Rafale, Typhoon, and Gripen are all single-seat aircraft.  Is everybody wrong except you?  Also, most of the European customers for the F-35 are currently operators of the American F-16.  Italy and the UK operate Typhoon, but they’re interested in F-35 as a carrier-based aircraft.  Typhoon can’t operate off carriers, and developing a carrier variant is no small task.

      • But the Americans have just sent out feelers to aircraft manufacters for the 6th generation fighters, so where does this end? 

  21. Harper lied to Canadians and deliberately withheld information on the true cost of these jets, whidh we don’t really need in the first place. He is a disgusting, disgraceful, unethical PM and should resign.

  22. Even if this jet were capable of flying to the moon and back without refueling, the point is that the Harper Government repeatedly lied to Parliament.  They had the numbers and should have told parliament and Canadians – taxpayers – the truth.  That this turns out to be a pig in a poke is incidental.

  23. God
    I would hate to see Canada become the United States, although I’m afraid it
    already has. Peace.

  24. We don’t need F35’s.
    We don’t need to replace F-18’s 
    Canada could paint the sky black with advanced Attack Drones, they are super fast, can fly lower, pull more G’s and are significantly cheaper to build maintain and replace vs any Jet.

    Why do we need manned aircrap!  We are one of – if not, the most advanced nations on the earth when it comes to technology lets take advantage of an at home solution and put Canadian know how and originality to work.

    • Attack drones don’t exist yet.  The Predator UAVs used in Iraq and Afghanistan could be taken out by a lightly armed piston engined trainer.  The US Navy is experimenting with an aircraft called the X-47, but it’s far from a production ready unit.  What you’re proposing isn’t much different than the 1957 defense white paper asserting that manned aircraft are obsolete because missiles can do everything.

  25. The helmet-mounted sight on the F-35 is one of the revolutionary aspects of the design.  As such, it’s not surprising that it’s running into development problems.  The author of this editorial is making too much of the development of a back-up option based on off the shelf technology.  They correctly note that the helmet mounted sight is a critical part of the aircraft system.  If there are development issues, it’s prudent engineering practice to mitigate the risk with an alternative.  The problems with the primary helmet mounted sight design are related to projecting high resolution imagery in a physically demanding environment, and avoiding latency issues in the image processing.  This isn’t a fundamental technological issue, it’s a detail engineering issue.  

    One of the ways the F-35 program is unique is that it’s being developed in an age of constant internet communications where everybody has access to a lot of information, but relatively few of those people have the education or knowledge to correctly process that information.  I’m not an aerospace engineer, but I am an engineering involved in high technology development.  The editorial staff of this magazine would do well to talk to some actual experts before writing an article based on information pulled from the internet.

  26. I think you’ve got the makings of a useful point there, but the details are a bit different.  All of the aircraft operating in Libya used NATO-standard communications systems and protocols.  That enabled interoperability.  Of course, that applies to the British Typhoons and French Rafales just as much as to the Canadian CF-18s and American AV-8Bs and F/A-18s.  The more important reason for operating the same type of aircraft as the US is to piggyback on US upgrade programs, support systems, and training systems.  The US tends to operate more aircraft of any given type than their European counterparts, and spends more on their military.  The US will be rolling out steady upgrades to the F-35s while the European nations are still arguing over cost-sharing arrangements for their aircraft.

  27. Here’s how it has always worked between us and them (America).
     They sell us their outdated/broken-down-junk, and we buy it up without question.
    If we happen to build/invent/… something better, (as a historical example, our Canadian-built Avro Arrow), then we have to dismantle it and “GIVE” all the plans to “them.”
     Because god forbid, if those things that were built in Canada, ever accidently get into “foreign” hands, or even worse, we build our own, sell them and profit by it. OMG.
     Huh ? yep.