Canada’s new top general on the F-35

The No. 1 question for the country’s No. 1 soldier? John Geddes has the answer


As Canada’s new Chief of Defence Staff, Lt.-Gen. Tom Lawson takes on an massively complex task heading up the Forces just as the government looks to overhaul its “Canada First Defence Strategy.” Yet of all the questions Lawson might be have been asked, one overshadowed all others as his was introduced as CDS by Defence Minister Peter MacKay on Parliament Hill this morning.

Where does the country’s new top soldier—himself a former fighter pilot and, most recently, deputy commander of North American Aerospace Defense Command in Colorado—stand on the controversial F-35 fighter jet?

After all, as a longtime top Air Force officer, Lawson has been outspoken in his support for the F-35, also known as the Joint Strike Fighter. When the U.S.-led development of the so-called next generation fighter hit a major setback early last year, it was Lawon who defended the jet “without hesitation” as “the only aircraft for the future.”

Back then, the Harper government also seemed firmly committed to the F-35. But last spring the Conservatives changed their messaging in the face of troubling questions about the multibillion-dollar cost of the acquisition, stressing that the Joint Strike Fighter was only one option and that Canada hadn’t signed any contract to buy.

So how did Lawson handle the inevitable questions about whether or not Canada should buy these jets? Here was his initial, cautious response: “The F-35 in particular is part of a whole-of-government effort and we will continue to take our lead on the F-35 from the government.”

Pressed to be clearer on his own preferences, he said: “The F-35 is a program that is hitting milestones and doing quite well. It will continue to contend for the replacement for the CF-18. I’ll be providing our best advice throughout the process.”

That bit about “hitting milestones” was as close as an endorsement as he came. Hardly emphatic. Still, as his only hint at an assessment, it was definitely on the positive side. It would be fair, then, to guess that Canada’s new top general remains favourably disposed, as he has been in the past, toward the most contentious military procurement of recent times.

More to come on the story of this key appointment later today.


Canada’s new top general on the F-35

  1. “Pressed to be clearer on his own preferences, he said: “The F-35 is a program that is hitting milestones and doing quite well …”

    Washington Times Aug 12 2012:

    “The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is the white whale of the Defense Department — a stealth jet designed to work for all branches of the armed forces — but at a total cost of $1.5 trillion, it’s also a program that analysts say is an epic boondoggle that neither President Obama nor his GOP challenger, Mitt Romney, has a realistic plan to get under control.

    What’s worse is that the F-35 is just the tip of the iceberg in what many describe as a sea of waste and mismanagement surrounding the weapons acquisition system at the Pentagon. Even the department’s inspector general says it simply cannot be audited.
    The Obama administration is all too aware of those problems when it comes to the F-35.

    As defense secretary, Robert M. Gates attempted to address them in 2010 by firing the program manager, Brig. Gen. David Heinz. Mr. Obama fought with Congress to end production of an alternate engine and, thanks to a veto threat and a change in the makeup of Congress, ultimately zeroed out funding.”

  2. I am now wondering if Chris Alexander’s botched performance last week was to try and counter the optics of the choice of CDS.

  3. The US senate decided about a year ago with an overwhelming
    majority to cancel an outstanding order of the US government. The consensus
    among both democratic and republican senators was that the fighter no longer
    matched the needs of the US military given its purchase price, technical problems, the maintenance costs of the fighter
    and the change in the nature of international conflict (i.e. transition from
    cold war preparedness to fighting insurgents). Fortunately for the US defence
    industry, they found a “fool with a pen” (i.e. Harper) to buy their unwanted
    goods. That’s what neighbours are there fore, right?