The best plane money can buy


While two former members of the Canadian military defend the purchase of new F-35s, an American military analyst questions the cost.

I can guarantee to you, however, that the unit cost Canada will pay for a complete, operational F-35A will be well in excess of $70 million – even taking into account whatever exclusion of American costs to develop the aircraft your government may be able to negotiate. If and when Canada signs an actual purchase contract for F-35As in 2014, as I understand is currently planned, the real question is what multiple of CAD$70 million will Canada have to pay?  I do not believe it unreasonable to expect a multiplication factor of two.


The best plane money can buy

  1. "I do not believe it unreasonable to expect a multiplication factor of two." I would be ashamed to pay any less, when lives are at stake.

  2. It's funny, they say that, but then they don't consider that not spending the money on warplanes could save lives as well.

    Consider, how many lives would be saved if we spent the x billion reserved for fighter jets on mental health? What's Canada's suicide rate again?

  3. Cons haven't gotten their talking points on this development yet, so expect a lot of recycled free-wheeling about 'supporting the troops'..

    Longer, more explanatory version is at:

    The last part is especially good. It begins:

    "Of course, you are being told there is reason for deciding now. "

  4. I'm really kinda curious how a project can be allowed to deviate so severely from one of it's primary design goals; being cost effective for mass production in comparison to, say, the F-22 which was intended as a Ferrari class fighter craft but is now likely the cheaper plane.

  5. "Gen (Ret'd) Paul Manson is a former chief of the defence staff. Earlier in his military career he was program manager for the CF-18 acquisition. Lt.-Gen (Ret'd) Angus Watt retired in 2009 as the chief of the air staff and commander of Canada's air force."

    Note how the Ottawa Citizen and the authors FAIL to inform readers that Paul Manson is also a director and former CHAIRMAN of Lockheed Martin Canada, the company that's trying to sell the F-35.

    What shameless hackery. Sad days.

    As the F-35 is highly limited (with tiny internal weapons bays); as "multirole" is a euphemism for "doesn't do anything particularly well"; and as the US military and other NATO forces are purchasing generation 4.5 and 4.75 fighters in addition to the F-35, it's a bit of stretch to say that this is the only plane that can serve Canada's interest. Sure, we may want to buy some F-35s, but how many, for how much, for which missions and whether other aircraft should be acquired too are legitimate questions. It's also important to note that today's stealth aircraft may not be stealthy tomorrow, as detection and countermeasures development continue apace.

  6. Stealth technology is doomed to failure.

    Why? Because of Moore's Law. The more computing power we can throw at radar image interpretation, the more quickly accurately that minute fluctuations can be read and collated to present a highly probable location of the disturbance.

    Creating stealth requires a lot of engineering, materials development and testing, all working against physics.

    Dispelling stealth requires math and computing power.

  7. The American analyst, Winslow T. Wheeler, is the director of the Straus Military Reform Project and one of the most vocal critics of the F-35 program out there. Before that, he was one of the fiercest critics of the F-22 program. He has made a career out of attacking the Pentagon for its major spending projects, authoring books such as "America's Defense Meltdown" and "Wastrels of Defense: How Congress Sabotages U.S. Security". Last week, he was interviewed by the Dutch and he told them that he sees the F-35 as "a dog in all of its roles".

    He is a knowledgeable man, and his opinions should be carefully considered. However, in the interest of context it should be noted that he has been a fierce critic not just of the F-35 project, but also every other big-ticket American military expenditure in the past few decades.

  8. Wherry you Liberal hack! Why do you keep publishing post after post after post on a subject that no Real Canadians care about?!

    Yawn, just another leftist fake controversy.

    Today's "progressive" Left: Wanting our brave soldiers to die in fiery death traps.

    You can't make this stuff up.

    (how's my chiff impression? :)

  9. Another expert that critizes everything but offers no factual alternative.

    "Wheeler says he tries to answer three questions in his testimony:
    1. What will Canada's F-35As cost?
    2. What will Canada obtain for that expense?
    3. Is there a good reason to wait?
    The short answers to those three questions: 1. Unable to know. 2. Unable to know 3. Yes."

    He had the same to say about the F-22: expensive, irrelevant and counterproductive http://www.cdi.org/program/issue/document.cfm?Doc

  10. Disagreement among experts, partisans, retired military, politicans and voters, eh. What a surprise. Who would have predicted it?

    This, folks, is why prudent, thoughtful, responsible governments have formal competitions for large purchases and don't make sh-t up as they go.

  11. and "35 per cent of the 13,300 inmates in federal penitentiaries have a mental impairment requiring treatment… Jails are hard-wired to mete out punishment, not therapy, so the mentally impaired often go untreated, sometimes languishing in isolatation 23 hours a day" http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/why-

  12. CR is on the right track " in the interest of context it should be noted that he has been a fierce critic not just of the F-35 project, but also every other big-ticket American military expenditure in the past few decades."

    My point is Wheeler is anti anything military.

    Wheeler works for an anti-war think tank. That's fine, but asking his opinion on a fighter plane is like asking Al Gore which SUV to buy.

  13. Further, can anyone – from either side of the argument – honestly take the wildly differing views and conflicting "facts" that are now emerging as assurance that choosing the F-35 without a competition was the best decision for the country? Anyone?

  14. So you will be making a donation???

    The Center for Defense Information (CDI) is a division of the World Security Institute (WSI), a 501(c)(3) public charity, and gifts to it are tax deductible, as allowed by law. Over 70 percent of WSI's revenue comes from the generous contributions of individuals and grants from foundations.

    Supporters living within the United States are kept informed of CDI's activities through our bimonthly print publication The Defense Monitor. We would be pleased to send this publication to any other interested parties.

    CDI gratefully accepts gifts of stocks, bonds, and mutual fund shares. Contributions may also be made by check or credit card. We accept all major credit cards.

  15. Al Gore may be opposed to you buying an SUV but that will never prevent him from making millions pitching Green Greed so he can buy more SUV`s.

  16. The Fraser Institute is also a registered charity.

    What does that have to do with an expert opinion on aircraft?

  17. The Fraser Institute is usually referred to as a "conservative" think tank. One keeps that in mind when hearing from their experts.

    CDI is anti-war so you need to be aware of that. "it is dedicated to strengthening national and international security through: international cooperation; reduced reliance on unilateral military power to resolve conflict;"

  18. CDI isn't anti-war. Stop making things up.

    Cooperation is always better than military power….something that should only be used in self-defence.

  19. This was the American competition – done by and for the U.S. government. Not a replacement or substitute for our own competition. Cons have been falsely putting this out all along. The dog don't hunt.

  20. Apparently you CAN make this stuff up. :)

  21. Which is why I am skeptical of Wheeler – it is his job to be anti-military.

  22. The retired generals write that "Stealth is simply a means of improving pilot survivability and operational effectiveness, by making the aircraft very difficult to detect visually, by radar or by other enemy sensors."

    Visually? I would also note that the CDS has just said that:

    “The [F-35] cost per unit is the cheapest for any fourth- or fifth-generation aircraft,” said Gen. Natynczyk, explaining that any attempt to buy older jets might actually cost more money.".. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/mult

    As one comparison I would note the current cost of a Super Hornet (which the US Navy continues to buy in considerable numbers) is US $42.7 million, without its two engines. http://www.flightglobal.com/blogs/the-dewline/201

    Each engine costs some US $4million, so the basic price of the plane is around US $51 million. http://www.deagel.com/Fighter-Aircraft-Engines/F4

    Our government claims our F-35s will cost something in the mid-$70 million range each. http://www.montrealgazette.com/news/Global+biddin
    The CDS seems rather to have mis-spoke. Along with the retired generals.


  23. I love the Con tactic of 'when proven wrong, keep repeating it anyway'

  24. So you're saying that our military needs are the exact same as that of the Americans? Perhaps you need a refresher course in basic geography. In case things have changed dramatically since I last looked, I don't remember America having a sea to their north and a vast, sparsely populated landscape.

  25. Jan right. Leo lost.

  26. OMG not that B.S. again!!!

    STOP IT!!!!!!!!!

  27. So, the Citizen runs an op-ed defending the fighter planes, co-written by a guy who is a director and former CEO of the company that makes the planes. And fails to mention this in his bio, or in the story.

    Journalism ethics failure.

    Sorry, fellas, had I pulled that kind of stunt 20 years past, it would have been my last day at a newspaper.

  28. Not neatly enough exclamation points.

  29. You're seriously attempting to compare Alaska's northern sea face with that of Canada's?


    And by "most of the US west" you happen to be glossing over the actual coastal area.. you know, the area any sort of invader would have to traverse to get into.

  30. 90% of Canada is uninhabited.

  31. The photo release was deliberate. The J-20 is in the nature of subtle Chinese humour, with the joke on the US.

  32. That should be 'today's tolerant progressive left', geez get it right.

    Oops, I heard the phrase . . . drink!

  33. And to make it even more interesting:

    Now, the admiral who was Croatia's chief of staff during the Kosovo War has said he believes that China formulated the technology for its J-20 jet from an American F-117 Nighthawk stealth fighter that was shot down over Serbia in March 1999. http://www.nationalpost.com/todays-paper/China+co

  34. Tolerant!

    I *knew* I was forgetting a word there…thanks!

    (I probably should've also tried to deflect the conversation towards Adscam or communion wafers :)

  35. An American 'stealth' plane shot down???

  36. Any excuse will do, I suppose.

  37. Though I dare say the US expects all of the Arctic Ocean north of Canada to belong to the US as soon as the oil under it becomes available.

  38. And if you can't yell "Adscam!" then yell "Al Gore!" as if that has any relevance to the topic.

  39. It worked with the cheap Chinese knock-offs of Mikhail Kalashnikov's AK-47s – put him out of business – so why not a stealth fighter?

  40. He wasn't IN business, and many countries have made AK-47s.

  41. Shouldn't Wherry's name be mispelled?

  42. Of course, in this context one of the guys on the other side of the argument here is a former director and chairman of the company selling the planes, so in that context Wheeler is arguably an appropriate counter balance.

  43. Gee I wonder which foreign nation the former CSIS head was speculating about as technology thieves and compromisers of political actors? Google "sidewinder report" . as an interesting aside i read a translation of a PLA war plan years ago that clearly articulated inserting "sleepers' into the west to steal technology and forment dissent and division…I wonder how that plan is coming along?

  44. Oh puleeze.

  45. Where is the icebreaker promised by Mulroney and again by Harper? Why are other more expensive projects being given precedence?

  46. Whoever manufactures the ice breakers obviously needs better lobbyists.

  47. Very good! Except for the weird line breaks

    mid sentence.

  48. Two letters:

    1) Globe: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/opinions/lett

    "Best value?

    General Walter Natynczyk's statement (General Says Multibillion-Dollar Fighter Jets ‘Best Value' – Jan 22) that “the cost per unit [of the F-35] is the cheapest for any fourth- or fifth-generation aircraft” was surprising, because it is factually wrong.

    When compared to the JAS-39NG Gripen fighter contract offered to the Dutch, or to recent American budgets and multiyear contracts for its Navy F/A-18 E/F Super Hornets, the F-35s budgeted $9-billion for 65 planes is more than $2-billion above the most touted alternatives.

    Meanwhile, recent official Pentagon estimates reflect outright disbelief of Lockheed's cost assurances, and continue to adjust average purchase costs higher.

    Joe Katzman, editor-in-chief, Defense Industry Daily, Toronto" http://www.defenseindustrydaily.com/

    2) Citizen: http://www.ottawacitizen.com/news/todays-paper/So

    "Re: The Truth About Those Jets, Jan. 24.

    Authors Paul Manson and Angus Watts would be well advised to at least acknowledge the following truths:

    First, with regard to the F-35's capabilities, as of now, the aircraft is in a developmental state. As such, its capabilities are unproven.

    Second, with regard to its costs, we do not know what its acquisition cost will be nor do we know what its long-term support costs will be…

    Alan Williams,
    Former ADM in charge of defence procurement for the federal government,

    Read the whole letter. More on 2006 MoU and link to text here: http://unambig.com/the-f-35-and-canadian-industry


  49. MarkOttawa

    The problem with the Superhornet is that it will be obsolete in 10 years. You can only upgrade so much. The only other country that has bought the SH is Australia and they have bought it as a replacement for the F-111. They have bought relatively few (24) and they are still going to buy 100 F-35s as a direct replacement for the F/A-18. The SH is a temporary measure to supplement the larger F-35 fleet. Do you propose Canada do the same?

    Another big plus is the benefit to the Aerospace industry, manufacturing contracts for a production run of 2500+ aircraft. The SH deal does not come close to providing a fraction of that business.

    The F-35 may seem a bit more expensive a first glance to the unknowledgable, but all factors must be added in. The F-35 comes out unquestionably on top.

  50. The USN will itself be buying Super Hornets for several years to come: http://www.flightglobal.com/blogs/the-dewline/201

    Indeed F-35 delays have increased the planned buy: http://www.aviationweek.com/aw/generic/story_chan

    "…The Navy plans to buy 41 F/A-18E/F Super Hornets to make up for some of the shortfall left in the Navy by the lack of availability of the F-35…"

    Not that obsolete and will be the bulk of the USN fighter force for some time to come. Does our Air Force need a more capable plane than the USN, in fact one of the world's largest air forces?


  51. The Super Hornet is an INTERIM fighter for both the US Navy and RAAF. As noted in this article a proposed 6th generation fighter would hopefully be offered by Boeing in 2024 (if there is enough interest). The SH being delegated to secondary roles:

    The US Navy will still buy more F-35s in the long term than the Super Hornet, they are not buying less. http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/02/15/lockhee

  52. The US Navy just goes through aircraft quicker because of the carrier landings limit the lifetime of the fighter. To compare the US Navy to our Canadian fleet is not practical, they replace aircraft at twice the speed at least. Our "A" model F/A-18 will be flying close to 40 years, the US Navy had the majority of their A models replaced in around 15 years. Our jets need to last a long time buying the Super Hornet is minor improvement over our current hornets and will be obsolete in a very short time.

    So the answer would be no we don't need a fighter more capable than the US Navy. The US Navy will using the JSF a long time after the SH is retired, we don't need the interim fighter we need the fighter than will take us 40 years into the future. The F-35 is the answer.

    And again the business offsets of the F-35 dwarf any offsets the Super Hornet can muster.

    F-35 FTW

  53. It is in fact unclear if in fact the USN itself will ever operate more F-35Cs than SHs. See these figures–and I think it unlikely the full number now planned will ever be bought: http://www.aviationweek.com/aw/blogs/defense/inde

    Also due in the next few weeks is the resolution of a long-standing issue within the Navy: the division of the 680 Navy Department F-35s between B and C models. Roughly speaking, it has always been accepted that about one-third will be Bs and one-third Cs, but the middle third has been in dispute. The Navy would prefer them to be Marine-badged F-35Cs but the Marines have aspired to as many as 420 Bs – but that would imply flying Bs off carriers, an idea that has met resistance from the big-deck Navy…"

    Note that as of 2009 the USN and USMC still had 622 A/B and C/D Hornets in service: http://www.defensenews.com/story.php?i=4185219

    Those will be the planes any F-35s will be replacing (along with USMC Harriers) for the first quite a few years, rather than the SHs. With the F-35s supposedly just beginning operational service in 2016–if things goes absolutely swimmingly from now on. Those earlier model Hornets will be very long in the tooth, carrier landings or no, by the time they are retired.

    The main value of the F-35 is as a stealthy bomb-truck launching an initial attack through layered air defences (think Iraq, Iran, China etc.). The maximum of some 20 F-35s Canada might (most unlikely) contribute to such an allied effort would not make that much a difference.

    I am not actually advocating for the SH. Just a competition to find the best value aircraft to meet realistic Air Force needs stemming from on a clear government strategy for how the CF should be employed and what general types of equipment are required. Which strategy does not exist.

    Any sixth generation fighter, a very long way down the road, will almost certainly be capable of operating unmanned–and might thus be considerably cheaper than the F-35. So if we needed that capability to replace any new fighter we might be able to afford it in less than 40 years.

    Note USAF bomber thinking: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-02-14/u-s-air-

    The Air Force is seeking an initial $197 million in fiscal 2012, which begins Oct. 1, to begin developing a new bomber, the military service said in an e-mail. Nearly three-fourths of the total funding will be spent in fiscal years 2015 and 2016, with the goal of “strike capability across the spectrum of conflict in the 2020-2030 timeframe,” it said.

    The development of a new bomber will be the first such aircraft in almost three decades since Northrop Grumman Corp.'s B-2 was designed. Lockheed Martin Corp. and Boeing Co. said in 2008 they would form a partnership to compete against Northrop.

    The new “bomber will be long-range nuclear capable, able to penetrate hostile airspace, and have the option of being piloted remotely,” according to a Pentagon document accompanying the 2012 budget released today [Feb. 14]…

    As a first step toward a new family of bombers, the U.S. ought to develop a fleet of at least 100 “optionally manned planes”..'


  54. Mark,

    The comparison was the Navy buy of F-35s to Super Hornets, it wasn't specified what make of F-35, it was just to show eventually the F-35 will be bought in larger numbers. The SH is like it was mentioned before a minor improvement over legacy hornets, and a disappointment in all areas (except maintenance hours) over the F-14s.

    As for a small force of 20 or less fighters not contributing to an operation, a person just has to look at the Canadian contribution in the Balkans. 18 CF-18s dropped 10% of the bombs in the conflict, not bad for a small number and obsolete avionics. The JSF will be even better due to much improved avionics and survivability due to stealth and stand-off weapons.

    Which does bring up the main point that many don't like about this purchase that we are not getting enough. But I have a theory once the initial purchase is done and Canadian companies get some good contracts a supplemental buy could come about. 100 aircraft should be the magic number considering accidents and such over a 40 year period.

  55. I don't see the need for a competition, no other aircraft will provide the survivability, lethality, and benefits from a 2500+ production run. We need to think big picture, good for the Air Force and good for Canadian citizens through business contracts.

    Super Hornet, Rafale and Typhoon are nearing the end of their production runs and no large amount of offsets will be available to Canadian companies.

    Besides the JSF had a competition to become the aircraft to replace the legacy fighters. Why repeat the process, waste the money on the competition, give up any hope of business contracts, and still pick the JSF in the end?

    Seems pretty illogical not to pick the F-35.

  56. If you believe the price of the F-35 will come way down pretty fast and that the numbers now being claimed are actually built. Given the American and European budget situations I doubt the latter will happen and therefore neither will the former. In which case all those oodles of money for our companies will not be there.

    And if the F-35 is guaranteed to win a competition (with a total acquisition cost limit) why not just hold one? The gov't's argument that Canadian firms could not then bid on contracts has not in fact been demonstrated; I have heard people with close knowledge of the program say that that matter is a question for lawyers–i.e. is not actually cut and dried. Moreover the Brits are now ditching some 138 F-35Bs in favour of many fewer F-35Cs–and with no apparent contract opporunity penalties.

    The original competition between the X-32 and X-35 was to select a "Joint Strike Fighter" for the the US and UK. It was based almost completely on US requirements and the US alone made the decision between the two competitors.

    Canadian factors were not a consideration, we did not participate in the decision, and the Liberal and Conservative gov'ts until just this year always made it clear Canada was in no way committed to buy the plane as a consequence of participating industrially in its development.


  57. Actually I do think they will build it in that number, the US alone will be buying 2500, this number does not include foreign sales. Foreign sales will be at least 1000. When you factor in how many aircraft the F-35 is a direct replacement for and their numbers; F-16s in the last 30 years (around 4500), Legacy hornets 1500, A-10s 700, and harriers 700 = 7400. The future looks bright for the JSF sales.

    Sorry to say your comments are typical of most 4th gen aircraft programs at their time of development. Too expensive, it has development problems, single engines aren't reliable, the technology isn't proven. All applicable to the F-15, 16, 18 development programs but yet decades later these aircraft are still sold in good numbers. The F-35 will be the same, it would be nice to get into that production business.

    The original competition was to replace legacy fighter aircraft one of these including the F/A-18, the F-35 was picked as the direct replacement. It is the next logical step, the F-35 does everything the CF-18 does only better and Canadian companies will greatly benefit.

  58. Those numbers are believable, the 3500 combined JSF sales would mean a replacement ratio of 1 F-35 to every 2 legacy fighters. Right in line with current procurement plans even at sky high initial costs (including spares, set-up costs, sims, etc.) These numbers are way larger than any other fighter program Canada could be apart. A competition knowing the government would drag out for years, cost millions, and in the end still pick the F-35. What is the point?

  59. Augustine's law and your linked article has some errors. The F-22 was about $130 million each at the end of the production run, which due to the inability to export the fighter could have been lower. Many nations wanted the Raptor but with no possibility of export the F-35 will be the next choice. Japan being a strong potential customer.

    Inflation is also a factor in comparison of old aircraft to new. Something not exactly mentioned.

    Fighters are also more capable today than years ago. The JSF especially in the air-to-ground role is reportedly four times more capable than the fighters it replaces. Air forces will use make more use of small diameter bombs to hit more targets than older aircraft all the while using stealth to get into a more optimal firing position.

    So what aircraft would give the JSF any challenge in a competition? Looking at the life span of Canadian fighters, the benefits to business, and the capabilites of the jet as prime criteria.

  60. the F-35 is expensive and still in development. IF it does work it will be a true game changer.
    put the price will not go down, the program acquisition has been lengthened, The US is how many trillion in debt and growing? The US military is being forced to reduce it’s spending by hundreds of billions, every major program is being cut. Fewer being built as planned price goes up to cover cost of development.

    Given that the CF-18 is going to have to be replaced in 5 years Then we should be looking at other options that are more affordable for us while giving our pilots a means to do what we ask of them. So what coices do we have, The F/A-18E/F/G super Hornet $60-75Million per aircraft, the EF-2000 Typhoon(almost as expensive as the F-35)$108-118million per aircraft,The Rafale $60-70million different weapon system ie missiles and bombs, and the JAS-39C/D/NG $45-50million available now could even produce ourselves helping our economy.

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