The F-35 jet cost controversy: now we’re getting somewhere

Why will Canada’s jets cost less than Washington’s estimates?


Dan Ross Deputy Minister of Defence holds news conference on the acquisition of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, in Ottawa (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Chartrand)

The increasingly heated debate over what it will cost Canada to buy the new F-35 fighter jet has, from the outset, bogged down on one point—the unwavering contention of the federal government that Canada will pay way less per jet than the U.S.

This just seems, on the face of it, difficult to believe. The F-35 story features  many other variables, vagaries, arcane disputes—all accompanied by acronyms and jargon of the sort that military procurement always generates in such unwelcome plentitude.

But that cost-border price differential is the hard part to get past. The Canadian government insists that each jet it buys will cost about $75 million, while numerous stories in the American media about Lockheed Martin’s troubled development of the F-35 Lightning II provide estimates about $20 million higher.

For instance, “Each plane clocks in at around $90 million,” says this recent Atlantic blog posting. And here’s Bloomberg from late last year reporting that the F-35 program “has almost doubled in cost to $92 million a jet.”

No wonder many look so skeptically on that $75 million projection from the Canadian Department of National Defence. Even moreso following last week’s report from the Parliamentary Budget Officer, which projected the per jet cost at $128.8 million.

Today the Defence department offered reporters in Ottawa a detailed briefing on F-35 costs to refute the PBO’s eye-popping numbers. The department’s Dan Ross, assistant deputy minister for procurement, said the PBO’s key $128.8 million figure is based on an “unsubstantiated average unit cost.” (I have asked the PBO to elaborate on how it arrived at that number, and will post on their answer.)

As for Defence’s own price estimate, that $75 million per F-35 figure is apparently taken straight from what’s called a Selected Acquisition Report, or SAR—a quarterly Pentagon review of the costs, schedules and performance of a U.S. military procurement program. (The facts reported in the SAR seem to be widely relied on and trusted, including by Canada’s PBO.)

There are three main reasons Canada’s jets will cost less than the estimates being reported out of Washington, at least according to Ross at today’s Defence briefing:

—Canada is buying just 65 jets out of nearly 3,000 Lockheed Martin hopes to sell, and Canada has arranged to take delivery on them during the sweet spot in the production run, from 2016 to 2022, when manufacturing costs should be far lower than for the early sales. (The few F-35s made and sold so far have gone for about $140 million a pop.)

—Canada’s deal as part of the F-35 consortium shields it from paying for escalating research and development costs, which are being shouldered overwhelmingly by the U.S. It’s those R & D overruns that are the main reason overall F-35 costs have soared beyond early forecasts.

—Canada is purchasing only the “Conventional Take-off and Landing” version of the F-35, the cheapest of the three versions of the Joint Strike Fighter, and the model with by far the fewest design, development and testing problems. But U.S. reports on the F-35 generally cite the average cost per jet spread across all the three variations.

These explanations for why Ottawa’s purchase might well be less outlandishly expensive than the whole F-35 program, as viewed from Washington, are not unreasonable. So the ball is clearly in Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page’s court.

Page and his crew of number-crunchers have done excellent work as an independent check on government claims about costs, and have earned respect. But their initial report on the jets was not definitive. Valid questions are in the air. It will be interesting to see their response to today’s Defence counter strike.

A final point on this. I have reported before on the Defence department’s explanation of how Canada is getting a deal (at least compared to the U.S.) on the F-35. Understanding the multibillion-dollar price tag is obviously an important element of this high-stakes debate.

Not, however, the most important part. Whether acquiring and maintaining these jets costs $14.7 billion, as Defence forecasts, or $29.3 billion, as the PBO projects, we still have to be reasonably sure that Canada needs them.

Is a fleet of advanced fighter jets really our top military procurement priority? At either price, the implicit answer is yes. I’ve asked what exactly the Joint Strike Fighter is for, and I’m not sure the case has been persuasively made. By all means, let’s probe the price. But let’s consider the purpose, too.


The F-35 jet cost controversy: now we’re getting somewhere

  1. As if on cue….we're attacking Libya.

    6 planes

    • Half a squadron? Really? Way to step up to the plate and commit there guys…

      • Mmm making the world safe for oil and all that.

        • A partial squadron is much better than no planes……..and it should be noted that one can't just send airframes- we are also sending two C-17s worth of support personnel.

          Yeah, obviously we're making the world safe for oil…..but if that oh-so-terribly imperialistic "West" had waited another week, I'm sure Qudaffi would have restarted the black curse…..under the black market.
          Damping the power of Qudaffi's clique just means that more oil will be sold, and most of it will be legal.

          In this case, I think it makes sense to be grateful that the 'responsibility to protect' coincided with stabilizing the supply of our petrol addiction.

          The phrase 'don't look a gift horse in the mouth comes to mind.

          On the thread of the article…….I don't think the 'purpose' of F-35s is in doubt…..it is to ensure that we have the latest generation fighter, so that the Chief of Defense staff never has to tell the minister "Yes, we can send our squadrons in, but we must expect heavy casualties because the opposing fleet has the same planes as we do."
          If we don't think that we will ever need such superiority….then why have an air force at all?

          • We don't need fighterplanes for defence….they're obsolete….if Russia or China wanted to attack us, they'd just push a button.

            ICBM's were invented a long time ago.

            The F-35s are strictly for overseas operations….

            And we're really choosy where we use them

            Darfur has genocide….the Ivory Coast is killing thousands….Saudi Arabia fired on their own people, and even nipped into Bahrain to protect the ruling 'royal' family there

            These we ignore. Libya has oil, so we go to their aid.

            Does NZ have an airforce?

    • We are helping enforce the will of the International Community to protect the citizen's of Libya. We are a part of the UN and a part of NATO we do have obligations being part of these orginations .

  2. I think it more bogged down on the tendering process, although they're related I guess.

  3. John, read the latest GAO report out of the US (the GAO also had input on the PBO report). They put the cost per jet north of 120 million.

    • And the US Fleet is grounded due to a minor generator problem buried inside the wrong under powered engine a engine that is known as the weak link in the whole kickbacks military program. GE has the right engine ready to go but it's outside the gravy train contractors picked by the neo cons therefore it,s a no go.
      Second the heart of the whole system electronics is years behind and what they wanted isn't what they are going to get, Norway has tossed the deal aside and have started over.
      NATO is hacking a group together to swamp the NATO members with misinformation about all things NATO looks like we are the main mis-information JSF battleground thanks to MacHarper from Central Calgary.

  4. Today we prepare to bomb anti-aircraft guns in Lybia, with CF18’s. Those stealth fighters would be nice for our airforce.

    • Don't our CF-18s still outperform whatever 1950s french crap Gaddafi can put in the air?

      • The Libyan air force has Mirage F1s and MiG 21s/23s……so definately not "1950s crap."

        It is difficult to tell how many airframes are combat worthy, but we certainly know some are (e.g. the two defectors).

        Would a Hornet outperform a mirage F1 or mig 23? Probably……

        Of course, Rogue states like Libya are not limited to buying third generation fighters…..the F-18 is good….but every airplane becomes less good, relatively speaking, as time advances, and potential rivals buy newer jets.

    • The CIA has plenty of planes they don't need our help.

    • “Those stealth fighters would be nice for our airforce.“

      You mean the ones that are years late, billions over-budget and are currently grounded? Don't think they'd be much use…

    • The Americans have exactly ten of them so far. It's not like we'd have any even if the Opposition rolled over and played dead.

  5. Talk about timing – swear Harper has horsehoes up his arse, lol!!! Just when you think a scandal will pull them down, opportunity knocks. Hope they fly by the Ivory Coast when they are finished with Gadaffi. There is another dictator who will not accept he lost the election and has started bombing around civilians – 400,000 displaced so far.

    "The Canadian government has made the decision late today that Canada will send six CF-18 fighter jets to join the Americans, the British and the French and other countries that will participate in imposing a no-fly zone,"

    • Lucky guy.

      Say, have you cross-referenced the cost per displaced person saved with the CPU of the F-35? And then accounted for the variables of an election now vs. when the Japanese reactor is stabillized? An input of that data into Canada's trade imbalance with the DRC, accounting for raw potential value of rare earth mineral investment in the unprotected North would really determine the a$$-hat factor of your unicorn investments.

      • Is that in metric or imperial?

      • LOL I have a sudden idea for a fantasy stock-market on Macleans' commenters, with value based on the "ass-hat" factor. I could make millions from ad revenues!

      • That is quite the equation you have presented!! However, you forgot to factor in the quantity and quality of the horseshoes Harper has up his arse, lol!!!

        • Extraneous variable. And they're Unicorn shoes, shurely.

  6. I don't understand the contention by some commenters here that enforcing a no-fly zone in Libya means we need F35 fighter jets. It means we need aircraft, but nobody has been disputing that fact.

    And yes, yaay, that we're sending planes to enforce a no-fly zone!

    • In fact, it would seem the idea that we need to buy a certain jet in order to properly integrate with our allies will be shredded if this goes off.

    • Libya's air force is not really any threat to coalition fighters; however, their surface-to-air (SAM) coverage includes many long range Russian SA-5 and modern medium-range SA-6 batteries. These are the biggest threat to our CF-18s.

      Low radar observability or "stealth" is critical in countering the SAM threat. Flying old generation aircraft, like our CF-18s, in a SAM environment puts our pilots lives in danger. The only fifth-generation aircraft in existence are the F-22 (which is not for sale) and the F-35. Survivability is why we need the F-35. Our pilots lives are worth it.

      • Except by the time we get them, their "stealth" will very likely be obsolete.

        Remember, defeating stealth only requires additional radar stations and linked computers that can do the math quickly.

        Creating stealth means a precise combination of materials fabrication and engineering design, and must be constantly updated to handle the advances in the math. It is a very temporary advantage currently held by a few militaries.

      • Libya's air force is not really any threat to coalition fighters; however, their surface-to-air (SAM) coverage includes many long range Russian SA-5 and modern medium-range SA-6 batteries. These are the biggest threat to our CF-18s.

        Fair enough, but why do WE need to be the ones who take out the SAM sites? It's true that some missions that Canada may be involved in in the future may require advanced stealth abilities to take out advanced SAM batteries. However it's equally true that some missions that Canada may be involved in may require aircraft carriers from which to launch the first strikes. Should we buy a couple of Nimitz-class carriers too? What about heavy strategic bombers? We could be involved in a NATO mission that requires them, do we need those in our arsenal as well?

        Not that any of these are really arguments against us getting the F-35 per se, I just think it's useful to point out that we're NEVER going to have in our arsenal every single capability that may be required for any conceivable mission we could be involved in with our allies.

        • So we should equip our air force to only do the jobs that are easy and/or safe? Perhaps you should just agree with Emily that we don't need an air force at all.

          • No, not at all, I'm just saying that it's not illogical to decide that some things we need the ability to do, and other things not, and maybe that discussion should be had with the people of Canada BEFORE the government whips out our credit card. Presumably you agree that we don't need aircraft carriers, even though there may be allied missions in the future that require them, but that we DO need F-35s because we shouldn't be shy about being at the tip of the spear and it's important to pull our weight internationally. I actually don't disagree with that assessment. However, I also think that the government ought to have this discussion with the public BEFORE making multi-billion dollar purchases, not after, and that if the government promises the people of Canada an open, transparent and competitive bidding process for a huge military procurement (and makes that promise repeatedly, on multiple occasions, including right from the Minister of Defence's own mouth on the floor of the House of Commons) that they should, you know, keep that promise.

          • Our pilots need the best plane that will suit Canada's needs. First and foremost, an air force's job is to control the skies above this country, a role demanding long-range interception and excellent air-to-air combat ability. An open competition, based on real and stated mission capabilities, is the only way to ensure that this happens, not blindly swallowing LockMart's "5th Gen" hype on the underwhelming F-35, a plane years behind schedule and billions over budget.

          • Arrow,
            I ahve heard this point often…..but I'd like to hear something more concrete about competitors….which planes would compete with the F-35? The sukhoi? or the J-20?
            I think the whole 'we need an open competition' point really needs to be bolstered by pointing out the actual competitors……if nothing else so that we can evaluate why we are apparently not considering buying from the Russians/Chinese.

          • This is standard procurement policy DND: issue a Request For Tender based on a Statement of Operational Requirements, and evaluate the competitors over a variety of measurable factors. This is a sound policy, from which we are departing in the single largest procurement in Canadian Forces history.

            There are a number of very advanced aircraft that have Low-Observable "stealthy" characteristics, modern sensors and supercruise/extreme agility. The Eurofighter, the Rafale, the Super Hornet and the Gripen NG come to mind. Hell, yes I'd like to see our pilots try the newer Sukhois. Fly them all off against each other and the F-35, and let the chips fall where they may.

        • LKO,
          Yes……no armed force can cover every single military want/desire.

          However, the vast majority of military manouvres (excepting guerrila tactics) require control of the skies. Air superiority has been a pre-requisite for boots on the ground ever since world war II (England would almost surely have been invaded if it had lost the fighter battle over the channel/S. England in 1940).

          Are you suggesting that Canada should just give up the ability to fight for air superiority?

          • No, I'm suggesting that treating the notion that the F-35 is the only fighter that we could possibly purchase that is capable of fulfilling this role as though that is an unassailable fact (without so much as putting out a Request for Tender, let alone holding a competition between rival bids) is silly. It's particularly annoying to not get a competition after the current government promised repeatedly, on multiple occasions, that we were going to hold such an open and transparent competition.

      • Well, maybe we are getting somewhere!

        My understanding (augmented by Thwim above) is that stealth technology is only stealthy when you aren't looking for them. Since we've announced we're coming, that isn't really the scenario in this instance–and that's a big issue with me, because when would Canada ever go into a sovereign country unannounced? That would make us the aggressor by default, wouldn't it? I'd rather we didn't have the equipment to pursue that line of thought.

        But you seem knowledgeable about this stuff. Can you give some more information that would possibly revise my thinking on this?

        • Jenn,

          (a) I think you may have extended Thwim point a bit far…….his point that any 'stealth' capability can be countered is on a time scale of years…..not hours. For example, the Libyans can't simply install new radar systems (which they don't have), and lay the signals wires (which takes a fair bit of time), and then hook everything up to a slightly better computer run by a slightly better computer operator. The algorithms needed to 'crack' stealth take avery significant investment. Thwim's point that they will, at some point, be cracked by a fairly wide number nations (the ones with large investments in the military, like China/India/Pakistan etc.) is quite fair……but doesn't apply to policing actions against a country which has trouble maintaining their third generation fighters.

          (b) There is a HUGE difference between notifying a sovereign nation that military action is imminent…..and letting them know the disposition and timing of your forces. No military commander likes to tell the opposition what they are doing…..the only time when advance warning is given is when there is a way to minimize collateral damage while hitting mlitary targets (e.g. leafletting evacuation warnings before hitting an immovable military target).

          Stealth technologies purpose is that even after war has been declared, the pilots in the air are much, much safer if the gunners on the ground (and enemy pilots) have to continually stand watch over a large area, not knowing where the next attack will come from.

          • My understanding (improved by Thwim, I should have said, but my understanding was before his comment) was that stealth does give off a small signal of some kind–just not one that looks like a fighter jet. So, if the enemy knows you're coming, and knows you're coming with stealth technology, they'll just look for the small other signal. Yes, it will be harder to see, but I would go in having enough respect for my enemy to not just assume all their ground missile radar operators are total tools. Which is not to say that stealth technology wouldn't be harder to hit–I believe it would be, but is the difference worth losing an engine? My concern with the F35 is its single engine, mostly. At least, now that I have some reason (per Geddes) to put a smidgen of trust in the numbers that seemed so completely unbelievable a few days ago.

            I totally admit I know nothing about fighter jets. But all that means is that the government has to convince me with plausible explanations. And all I've really seen thus far is that fifth generation technology is really cool and all the boys want it.

            I would love a discussion, say in the House of Commons or some committee, that looked at our options, looked at our requirements, looked at solid costs (not fairy estimates) and came to a consensus. And if a consensus couldn't be reached, at least a clear acknowledgement of the government's priority that placed more emphasis on one criteria over others that led to a decision of one option over the others.

  7. This is a sham. One day we will look back and realize Harper is the worst criminal Canada has ever had as PM. It's too late, but he has to be voted out. The conservatives are great for huge corporations but bad for the average Canadian. 65% of Canadians did not vote this party into office, but there he still remains. It's disgusting what Harper is doing to this country.

    • Dude. Relax.

      • Fascist!

      • Thug hugger!

        • I'm sensing a theme here…

    • 65% did not vote for the conservatives……what percentage did not vote liberal or ndp?

      • less than 35%

  8. The worst criminals Canada has ever had as PM, Trudeau, Chretien and Martin.

    • Let's not get carried away with the partisanship eh

    • Chretien I can see.

      Martin and Trudeau though? Not sure how you're getting there.

      And of course how you can have that list without Mulroney simply boggles.

    • I miss balanced budgets.

  9. Thank God all these left wing a..holes only have one vote and have difficulty making the letter X.these twits have no idea of what they speak,unless it is covering their faces in a black mask and breaking bank windows..their time is just about over as the great freedom fighters from now it is all down hill.

    • Let me guess – old, white, misogynistic and chips on your shoulders the size of houses.

    • Right wing asshole. Stand up for yourself.

    • Spoken like a true God fearing Yank. I bet you would object to the Prime Minister speaking to your children on the first day of school telling them that education was important..

  10. By all means, let's probe the price. But let's consider the purpose, too.

    Put that in reverse order, and you've got yourself a deal.

    • You mean have an open bid? Great idea.

  11. John Geddes, with people like you reporting, there is still hope that Canadians can have a debate about this. Thank you so much for posting a clear and inquisitive overview.

    No namecalling, no bs, just an good overview of the facts as we now may know them. What a difference such reporting can make.

    • Agreed – too bad most of your other colleagues are spending time figuring out (I mean guessing) when we are going to have an election instead of reporting on topics that should be carefully analyzed and debated during one!

  12. Solid read

  13. As noted in the Press, the PBO report made a $1Billion adding error on one page. Not confidence building.
    The other thing is, if the PBO came up with these extremely higher numbers shouldn't they have reviewed their methodology with the Defence Dept? If they turn out to have made errors they will look like idiots.

    • They specifically asked for input, and were told to take a hike. Not confidence building, so to speak.

      • I'm not sure who you mean was told to "take a hike"? It appears the Defence Departlment provided detailed answers to all the questions the PBO asked, and there was no follow-up requested. Perhaps if the PBO adapted a somewhat less adversarial approach to gathering information there would be fewer questions about the quality of its reports.

        • The PBO asked for breakdowns of data that DND had released, and asked for revised estimates given that significant challenges are being experienced within the F35 program that undermine the original estimates. DND didn't reply with the data requested, hence many of the disagreements within the original PBO report.

          They replied in more detail this week because of Parliamentary pressure, which is good but not helpful for the PBOs original purposes. Moreover, given that DND keeps saying that everything's peachy, when the Atlantic wonders if the F35 program is going into a "death spiral", it's fair to ask if those disagreements aren't still significant ones.

          Moreover, the weaselly insinuation that the problem lies in the PBOs "adversarial approach" seems disingenuous. They provide oversight, and asked for info. The info wasn't provided. Parliament asked for the info directly. The info wasn't provided. Parliament threatened to hold people in contempt, and the info was finally, but still incompletely, provided. Yeah, PBOs the agency acting inappropriately, for sure.

  14. Good column Geddes. Balanced comments.

  15. I like the F-35's even tho they are expencive. Hell I even think we should get more of em! Strangly I also like PM's Trudeau & Chretien.

    • I always like an opportunity to point out that Trudeau spent more money on defense (relative to the size of the economy of course) than anyone else since him. Defense spending under Trudeau was 1.9% of GDP. Under the Harper Tories it has risen since the Chretien/Martin deficit slashing years, and is now at 1.2% of GDP.

  16. The F-35 is the Swiss army knife of jet fighters which is why Canada is buying it. The F-35 is capable of air defense, ground attack and naval attack. Future block upgrades will also allow it to do electronic warfare and maybe even cyber warfare by accessing enemy networks and inserting malicious code. Rumors have been circulation for a few years that future variants of the F-35 will carry high powered lasers to shoot down surface to air missiles among other things.

    • and like just about any swiss army knife i've had, therefor useless.

      • BUt if he'd said Leatherman (TM), we might be in business.

        I'll take a product that shares a name with an American survivalist hermit any day over one named for a cheese-eating cross-country-skiing polyglot European "army"… shudder, you think official bilingualism is bad!? ;-)

        • The swiss have probably been the best mercs in military history……and when was the last time Switzerland was invaded?

          You must lead a sheltered life (literally!) :)

          I haven't even bought a can-opener….cause I have one in my pocket already :)

    • There are a number of very advanced multi-role aircraft that have Low-Observable "stealthy" characteristics, modern
      sensors and supercruise/extreme agility. The Eurofighter, the Rafale, and the Gripen NG come to mind. Hell,
      I'd even like to see our pilots try the newer Sukhois. Fly them all off against each other and the F-35, and let
      the chips fall where they may.

      In December of 2010, Saab representatives testified to the House of Commons Standing Committee on
      National Defence that they could supply 65 Gripen NGs (including 40 years of service and support) for less
      than $6B. We could get, say, 130 advanced Gripen NGs for $12B, have them all built in Canada, get full
      tech transfer, and have enough multi-role planes that can actually dogfight (unlike the F-35). Most crucially, with 130 aircraft we maintain operational sovereignty. We remain a serious country, rather than a protectorate.

      • Good Comment.

  17. The F-35 is a 5th generation fighter. It is a generation more advanced in materials, electronics, fire control, etc. What's more, our F-18s have done yeoman service, but their lifespan is running out. We've already done the midlife extension.Whether we like it or not, and I know some hate it, we need interop with our US allies, both as part of NORAD and as part of NATO. The JSF is the route to that interop. We'll be ordering from the same production runs and should be capable of applying many of the same refits as they become available. We're letting any fleet level issues be addressed on someone else's dime essentially. We need to be have tech parity as part of enforcing our sovereignty mandate in the North West Passage and the rest of the North and that is also part of making our political and legal claims to the resources up there that others are now trying to pry away from Canada.

    • so it would really whip the competition in an open process, then; win the contract in a cakewalk, right?

      • There is no competition, because there is no comparable aircraft available for purchase in the time frame within which the CF-18 needs to be replaced.

        • all depends on what the terms of reference are.

        • Even if this is true it doesn't matter. "We don't need to have a competition because company X clearly has the superior product" is ALWAYS going to be the argument against holding an open competition. The whole reason we hold open and transparent competitions is to judge the veracity of such claims.

        • The arguments against a competition are nonsensical. "It would be pointless to hold a competition when the
          other competitors aren't even remotely competitive"? Logic dictates that the ONLY way to determine that a
          competitor is uncompetitive is through A COMPETITION (a real one, not DND staffers drooling over glossy
          Lockmart brochures).

    • And if they could carry enough fuel to do that northern enforcement, and we had runways they could land on up there, you might have a point about that.

      • Which is why we have both air to air refuelling aircraft and runways that can accomodate both the CF-18s and the F-35.

        • My understanding is that we *don't* have runways which can accommodate the F-35s in the region. Taken from an article somewhere here on Macleans. Was that in error?

          • Yes

          • Which arctic landing strips are at least 3000ft in length?

          • That is why the Canadian version is going to have a drag chute. The Voodoos had the same thing when they were first deployed in the 60's until the run ways could be upgraded.

        • This is incorrect. The model of F-35 that the Harper Government is considering is the F-35A, which can only be refueled air-to-air using booms; our Polaris tankers use probe-and-drogue. The two are not compatible. As for runways, if the F-35A can operate from secondary/unprepared landing strips of less than 3000ft, why is the government inquiring about drag chutes for the F-35.

          More to the point, why on earth wasn't compatible air-to-air refueling and an ability to operate on
          secondary and unprepared runways a condition for this contract? These modifications will get very expensive very quickly (see our Chinook purchase: 70% cost over-runs for add-ons).

          • Please keep posting on this subject, Arrow. Nice to have someone who knows what he's talking about as opposed to the partisan cheerleaders who have nothing but Peter Mackey's talking points to offer.

      • hehehe……..and if their was any reason to send a fighter instead of a recon plane…….but maybe TomB envisions sinking anyone drilling for 'our' oil? :~

        The point about supply lines is pretty important though……in the event that world stability goes down the toilet far enough…..it would be rather nice not to ship parts all the way from Europe, and be able to share knowledge with the largest air force in the world…..

    • Anyone in a position to threaten our sovereignty over the Northwest Passage (China, Russia, USA) has us outgunned 10 to 1, 65 F22s or no. If it comes to a shooting war, we've already lost. At that point, I don't see what harm there is in not having stealth capabilities. Maybe I'm naive, but I don't see how it could make a difference in defending our territory as a show of force.

      • I wish we were only outgunned by the Russians 10-1. The Russians could leave 45% of their fighters at home and still outnumber 65 Canadian fighters 10 to 1.

    • Interoperability? The F-35 isn't even interoperable with our current fleet of aerial tankers…never mind
      landing and taking off at secondary or unprepared runways shorter than 3000 ft.

      Interoperability is a canard; members of NATO and NORAD currently and HAVE ALWAYS operated a wide
      variety of planes for over 60 years. Interoperability is fairly easily achieved with compatible com-links and

      Oh, we're fixing the aerial-refueling problem? At how much extra cost? The Chinook helicopter purchase
      ballooned 70% more than the generals testified it would when add-ons were included. The Auditor General
      has stated there's an even greater risk this would happen in a sole-sourced F-35.

  18. Make no mistake about it, we have been under the USA military umbrella for many years. If not we might not still be Canada as we know it. Our natural resources make us a prime target for future intrusions and its a small price to pay to be continually protected and coordinated with their military, for our own home defence and our future roll on the world stage

    • what if you could get, say, twice as many 4th or 4.5th generation fighters for about the same price as a result of a competitive procurement process? fighters that are already inter-operating with NATO and NORAD (and that some of our NATO allies are continuing to purchase with continuing inter-operability in mind)? would 65 super-awesome fighters beat 130 really-awesome fighters in their capability to protect our natural resources from intrusion every time? I know that in WWII the Germans had the superior equipment, but the Soviets had superior numbers, and while it went badly for the Russians, it went much much worse for the Germans in the end.

      • The specific example from WWII is in tanks. German tanks like Panthers and Tigers were arguably superior to the Allies' Shermans and T-34s but the allies were able to crank out said tanks at an impressive rate, so the superior equipment couldn't make up the advantage in numbers.

        I think sometimes of the M-16 / AK-47 competition too. The M-16 is arguably the more sophisticated and "advanced" weapon, but a lot of people would argue that they'd much rather have the cheaper and simpler AK in a fight.

        Of course fighter jets are a different beast, so the analogies are of pretty limited applicability to the current discussion.

        • You can make the analogy for fighter jets too……Germans had them….and the allies didn't……and the German jets were leaps ahead of the prop planes…..but there were only a few of them……

          Another interesting anaolgy is the battle of britain…..the messchermits weren't far off in terms of dogfighting ability, and the number of german aircraft was greater than the RAF……but the RAF didn't have to push any range issues, and were networked to fantastic radar/fighter control.

          Interestingly, the F-35 doesn't appear to be a great dogfighter (less than the f-22, comparable to the typhoon)…..but as in WWII, the ability to effectively use of-aircraft recon and fighter control may give it an edge against planes like the typhoon.

          • Interesting points.

            I'd just mention that a lack of dog-fighting skills isn't actually a criticism I'm concerned about with regard to the F-35. Aerial combat in the "dog-fighting" sense isn't really that big of an issue anymore. I'm not sure the F-35 pilot has to worry much about how he or she is going to do in a classic dog-fight, since the idea is that the F-35 can shoot down it's adversaries before they're able to utilize any advantages in speed or agility that they have, ideally before said adversary even knows that the F-35 is there.

            Of course, Western air power is also so far ahead of anyone we'd need to fight in the future that dog-fighting wouldn't be much of an issue if we went with a 4.5 generation aircraft either. No American made fighter has been shot down in air to air combat since the Arab-Israeli war in 1973 (interestingly, no American piloted fighter, of any make, has been shot down in aerial combat since Vietnam).

  19. TimesArrow I would like these "useless" F35's on my side in a scrap.

    • The thing is, for the same money as these F35's cost, we could be getting a significantly larger fleet of some other planes that might be more suited to *Canada*'s needs. Not NATO's, not NORAD's, Canada's.

      I think that's at least worth having the discussion around.

      • No you couldn't – and how is it that "Canada's" interests are somehow distinct from our interests in our two most significant military alliances?

        • I don't know if we could. The entire discussion has been precluded.

          As to your second point, because we're a sovereign nation? May I point to Iraq as a demonstrable example.

          I mean, you might want to be part of the US, and that's entirely your decision. I don't, though.

        • We are far smaller, about 10 percent of the American population. We just don't have this sort of money if health care is to be a priority or even if we wish to have a viable navy (we have the largest coastline in the world on three oceans) or military equipment for a very stretched army. Anybody want to choose which to cancel? It is also unconsionable to leave these debts to our grandchildren. We will also need tankers for this one-engined wonder that is currently grounded in the U.S. with generator and oil leak problems.

        • I think you may be right, depending upon what one regards as a "significantly" larger fleet, but then again this is why we should have held a competition. I can't imagine anyone really truly believes we're going to get our F-35s for the sweetheart price the government is floating out there, and no one even ASKED what it'd cost to buy some number of something else. I fail to see how we can be so definitive in our assertions that we couldn't get a larger fleet of some other plane for the same price without even being confident what the price for the F-35s is going to be.

  20. Kevin Page and the PBO have performed a useful service.

    In the absence of any detailed cost estimates, underresourced and largely unaided by the Gov't, they independently prepared a cost estimatthat properly includes all of their assumptions and sources (I presume, haven't read it myself).

    This allows the critics to have a go at it – and test the assumptions – further refining the costs, and leading to better decisions.

    Which is precisely what the House of Commons was attempting to do/get from the Harper Gov't. Let's keep this in mind as the critics go after the PBO.

  21. "(The few F-35s made and sold so far have gone for about $140 million a pop.)"

    What? They have sold a F-35? Funny because the last I heard they had just got around to testing a prototype. Could you provide details who has bought one of these already and how many have been 'made'.

    • The first production models are now flying and the committements to purchase have been made by the USAF, Marine Corps and USN, as well as the Dutch and Australians – they have not yet been delivered, of course.

      • The current F-35 fleet is exactly TEN aircraft, three of which are currently grounded because of unexplained electrical failure. The F-35 is so far behind schedule that they are not expected to reach Initial Operational Capability (IOC) until 2018.

  22. “But their initial report on the jets was not definitive.” Of course not. Because the same government the PBO is paid to serve refused to provide sufficient information to help them make it definitive.

    If there are any errors in the PBO report, I hold The Harper Government fully responsible. Fiscal conservativism is supposed to mean fiscal conservatism all the time, not just when it’s politically convenient for the party that’s pretending to be conservative on any given week.

  23. I used half and double for simplicity's sake, and because the variance on estimates for what delivery of an F-35 might actually cost is so wide. in any event, seems shortsighted to start with a fleet of fewer planes than we have left after 30 years (and then to call it a recruiting tool, no less!).

    • I agree, the numbers we are proposing to purchase are small, and the reduced numbers and opportunities for pilots will have effects of their own. But looking at the total cost of running an air force over the next 30 years, no alternative plane of even remotely comparable competence is going to be more than marginally cheaper – and none of those available would allow a sizeable increase in the proposed size of our air force – unless the Canadian public support an equally sizeable increase in the defence budget. Of course, almost all our allies are also proposing fairly dramatic reductions in the number of planes they are flying.

  24. I have always been willing to provide Harper a benefit of the doubt on this one. But why didn't he provide the information to Kevin Page?
    Is it verifiable by Kevin Page?
    What about the maintenance costs?
    Why are those numbers so far out of agreement? Why does everthing have to be such a secret?

    • Perhaps it's not so much about secret keeping as it is about numbers given never being satisfactory enough.

      Will the opposition ever accept any of the government's numbers?

      That would be a valid question to ask also……

  25. Read the news, Mike…
    When asked how they analyzed the total cost, the government replied that “such analysis has not yet been
    undertaken.” Hmmm. Perhaps cost analysis should be performed BEFORE announcing a cost figure rather than AFTER announcing it.

  26. The US Navy estimates that maintenance and operations costs for the F-35 will be 30-60% HIGHER than costs for the current F-18 fleet.

    To repeat, in December of 2010, Saab representatives testified to the House of Commons Standing Committee on National Defence that they could supply 65 Gripen NGs (including 40 years of service and support) for less
    than $6B. We could get, say, 130 advanced Gripen NGs for $12B, have them all built in Canada, get full
    tech transfer, and have enough multi-role planes that can actually dogfight (unlike the F-35). Most crucially,
    we maintain operational sovereignty. We remain a serious country, rather than a protectorate.

    If you agree that 65 aircraft are enough to fill Canada's needs, we could certainly spend upwards of $30B
    on the F-35 to meet that need. Or we could spend less than $6B for 65 Gripen NGs (including 40 years of
    service and support), which would be manufactured in Canada, include full tech transfer, and provide an
    airframe that can actually dogfight (unlike the F-35). That's what Saab quoted to the House of Commons

    Standing Committee on National Defence in December of 2010.

    That's quite a difference…

    This would free up a lot of capital for other defence needs, especially for the naval assets required for arctic

  27. Don't you think that pretty much ANYONE who simply questions the wisdom of buying the F-35 without holding a competition thinks that we should just disband the air force? I know you've accused me of thinking that, and I'm actually someone who thinks that we SHOULD buy the F-35s.

  28. One thing I think we need to do is acknowledge the brilliance of whatever marketing wiz at Lockheed Martin came up with the idea of dividing fighters into "generations" the way Apple does with iPods and iPads. This is how Apple gets people to get rid of the iPad they bought a month ago because they absolutely MUST HAVE the "second generation" with a couple of crappy cameras and a dual core processor that not an app in the app store is optimized to take advantage of.

    It's interesting to see this brilliant marketing ploy spreading to other industries. Thankfully, I already own a fifth generation toaster.

    • I just bought a 5th generation toaster – all electronic, with buttons and lights and other cool stuff.

      It looks impressive, but for making toast it's a piece of crap.

      • Ah, see I wasn't kidding about mine either (a Breville, if you care) but mine is actually really good at making toast.

        I do admit that I like the cool lights and the beeping, but what I really like is the "lift and look" button that raises the toast up high enough for me to see how well done it is, and then lowers it right back down for me (unless I hit "Cancel"). It also has a "Little Bit More" button as well which is really nice, and I like how it centres the toast in the slot.

        Of course, it has a "Bagel" function too, but I think that's a fourth generation feature. :-)

    • Is that the one that toasts on both sides at the same time? Aren't they great.

  29. Canada's F-18's are done. Within 10yrs or less they will reach their expiration date, they will be unable to fly. It would be stupid to just wait and do nothing about it, since production will take time it seems that getting our order in now is good timing. Should we just wait until it costs us more to replace the F-18's? It will also be good for the Canadian Aviation companies that are contracted out for the work.

  30. I have been told by an engineer who worked on the Avro Arrow that every Friday afternoon there was a fist fight between British and American Engineers over who built the best jet engine. The British engine was apparently very finely machined but expensive. The American engine was thrown together but much cheaper. The U.S. arguement was "Why build an expensive engine when it was only going to be shot down". My question is whether or not in this day and age we really need an expensive manned fighter jet. Would it not be cost effective to invest in low cost robotic aircraft and armed drones. How many cruise missiles can you buy at $1 million a shot for $14.7 Billion?

  31. Why do we have to spend so much money for fighter jets now when
    our economy is in deep turmoil ? Instead, couldn’t we put our money to better use
    by creating more jobs for Canadians instead of supporting the American War
    Machine ? Maybe it’s just me, but I feel that I am losing my identity of what
    it really means to be Canadian. As I see it, the future of Canada does not look
    at all promising.

  32. Hi staff at MacLeans
    How about an update on this issue.

    I really do not like the idea of Canada spending upwards of $16 billion on aircraft that may not be what we need or want.  It seems the future air war will be handled by missiles and drones rather than maned aircraft at about $200 million a seat. 

Sign in to comment.