Why the F-35?

by Aaron Wherry

Paul Koring tries to figure out why we might need to buy the F-35. Interoperability with our allies? Using different planes didn’t keep NATO from bombing Libya. To intercept or shoot down a terrorist threat? Any fighter plane will do. To protect our Arctic sovereignty? Drones could do that. So when might we need a stealth fighter? If we plan on bombing Iran or going to war with China.

While Lockheed Martin’s F-35 – a so-called fifth-generation strike fighter – is far and away the best available choice for flying bombing runs against a first-rate adversary (think China) in heavily defended airspace full of missiles and modern warplanes, it would be overkill against “softer” targets like Libya.

In other news, the first few F-35s could cost $104 million each.




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Why the F-35?

  1. Conservatives have been advocating a “starve the beast” approach to government spending.  I think that should be adopted for the military – reallocate the vast majority of the budget to building a capable northern defence network including the icebreakers Conservative governments have promised for 30 years but never delivered on.  Then when our allies come calling with absurd adventurism liek they’ve been doing for the last decade, we won’t even have to worry about right wingers making the wrong choice – all the $ will be tied up in work on our northern front. 

    • That’s a brilliant plan, if you’re living under the assumption that the only use for the military is “absurd adventurism”. But there’s these things that happen in Libya, Afghanistan, Africa, Syria, and other places that require us to have a strong military.

      •  I’m especially worried about our role in Libya.  As far as I can see nobody in media is there looking into the actions of the people we put into power, despite some accounts of race-based slaughter during the ouster of Gadahaffi and torture afterward. 

        As for Afghanistan, no matter what our feelings at the beginning (I admit I wasn’t against it at the time) after a full decade it’s an ugly cautionary tale about jumping into things half-baked. 

        This time, let’s spend the next several decades actually learning from the mistakes the west made in the last decade.

        • I’m not going to argue the merits or demerits of each individual conflict here. My broader point was that conflicts arise in which sometimes we need to involve ourselves. And we especially need the capacity to do so if we want our allies to take our opinions seriously, especially when those opinions would be to let calmer heads prevail. If you think that anybody would take our more peaceful foreign policy more seriously if we intentionally starved our military, I think you’re dreadfully mistaken.

          •  In theory I am actually inclined to agree with you, and I probably would have in, say, 1990.  But after the last 10 years I am firmly in favour of just saying no to conflict abroad.  Even if our leaders make the best decisions for the best reasons, our ability to affect positive change seems woefully limited and the possibility of things going dreadfully wrong too great.

            As for other countries not listening to us, I will be blunt.  If you are considering going to war, listen to all the advice you get and weigh it carefully.  If you discount counsel because of the size of a military, you may reap the bloody penalty.  It’s not a game and it’s not about stroking egos.

      • Libya, Afghanistan, Africa, or Syria are not likely to launch any attack on Canada where first attack stealth fighters would in any way be useful.

        •  This is undoubtedly true and a fine point, but to be fair to our fraudulent bank manager,  he’s replying to my post where I posit that devoting the military budget to long term northern defence committments prevents poor decisions about when and how to send troops abroad.

        • I’m not going to argue with that. But any of those countries/regions may attack an ally of ours, or even an innocent 3rd party when it would be in our interest to intervene. Pretending that our military’s only purpose is to defend the borders from the Americans and Russians does nothing to advance our foreign policy.

          • “But any of those countries/regions may attack an ally of ours, or even an innocent 3rd party when it would be in our interest to intervene. ”

            And first attack stealth fighters are necessary in a defensive, responsive situation? Abroad?

          • Yes, they are. When preparing for any kind of conflict, the more tools in your arsenal, the better.

          • @Rick_Omen:disqus I recall a story by a -then- eighth dan Shorin-ji Ryu living master about the clever fox, with all kinds of tricks to evade the pursuing hounds, and the rabbit with but one. And I recall from my own experience, learning all kinds of martial arts kicks and blocks and grapples and strikes, and the experience of the actual fights, where the consistent and dogged left jab did so much.

          • @dougsamu:disqus 

            Excellent parables. But you’d never go into a fight telling your opponent that you were going to use nothing but a left-jab, would you?

          • Why tell every boxer what every boxer already knows?

          • @Rick_Omen:disqus 

            “When preparing for any kind of conflict, the more tools in your arsenal, the better.”

            So, we should be purchasing aircraft carriers and ICBM’s next then?  

            Actually, frankly, I can see aircraft carriers (with, say, Super Hornets) being infinitely more useful to our armed forces than F-35s.  And the fact that the plan is to get over-priced and (so far) under-performing first-strike stealth fighters before we get any attack helicopters is LUDICROUS.

  2. ‘Inconvenient’ truths about the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) include:

    1. The current price per UNmodified F-35A (air force variant) is $126.6M, per Pentagon & U.S. aerospace news reports. On Feb. 14/12, U.S. Dept. of Defense (DoD) & Lockheed Martin officials said the JSF’s price was going higher.

    2. As reported by the Ottawa Citizen on Jan. 31/11, F-35A’s for Canada will not be able to mid-air refuel with the air force’s Polaris & Hercules tankers. Either each warplane will have to be re-engineered & modified with the F-35B’s/C’s refueling system, which will reportedly cost 100′s of millions. Alternatively, a new fleet of aerial tankers could be procured (cost: $1+ billion). Either way, the DND doesn’t have the $ without reducing the size of the JSF fleet.

    3. Per Cdn. news reports during the past ~13 months, the air force wants a drag chute & satellite comm. gear on each F-35A, which will cost many extra millions for additional engineering & the equipment. Cold-weather operation mods. will also cost $$$$.

    4. Each modified F-35A will cost AT LEAST $140M, not the Cons’ fantastical $75M, which Post Media News said last summer had been “discredited” (no kidding!). Factoring in bills for initial spares & training, simulators, extra security @ RcAF F-35 bases, and other start-up costs, the air force will be lucky to get three dozen altered F-35A’s for $9B. It WON’T be getting the “65 next-generation fighter jets” called for in the Cons’ Canada First Defence Strategy (CFDS).

    5. In May 2011, Dr. Ashton Carter, the Pentagon’s chief of major weapons systems procurement, told U.S. lawmakers that the JSF had doubled in average cost to $138M & become “unaffordable.” U.S. Vice-Adm. David Venlet, who heads the DoD’s F-35 program, told reporters 12 months ago: “The [armed] services see these estimates and it makes their knees weak going forward, as it does anybody’s.”

    6. Concerning the cost of operating & sustaining the JSF, Venlet said in April 2011: “We see that [cost] estimate. We know that’s not the right number. We don’t know what the right number is.” Eight months later, after technical analysis had revealed cracks and “hot spots”, Venlet called for JSF production to be slowed further & said that the cost of fixing the F-35s problems “sucks the wind out of your lungs.”

    7a. The U.S. govt. will NOT be buying 2,443 JSFs. Why not? Because it’s technically bankrupt. Online U.S. Treasury data shows that there is nearly $15.6T of ‘red ink’ on Washington’s books & the fed. debt is mushrooming by ~$32B weekly. Online U.S. govt. debt projection material shows that between FY2012 & FY2021 ALONE, the debt burden will be expanded by ANOTHER $7.2T.

    7b. Ten months ago, USA Today reported: “The government added $5.3 trillion in new financial obligations in 2010, largely for retirement programs such as Medicare and Social Security. That brings to a record $61.6 trillion the total of financial promises not paid for.” In Dec. 2009, Forbes said that the total of all U.S. govt., corporate & household debt exceeds $121T, approx. $50T more than the value of the global economy.

    8. As things stand now, starting on Jan. 2/13 & for the next 10 years, the DoD will be required to cut its budget by ANOTHER $500B. The binding penalty is called sequestration. Some U.S. lawmakers are trying to have it rolled back, but whether they’re successful or not, partly or wholly, is a huge MAYBE at this point.

    9. Based on Treasury data, the U.S. fed. debt ceiling will be reached in late September. There will be another debt ceiling crisis before the presidential election in early November. As they did last year, Tea Partiers & far-right Republicans will insist on MORE fed. spending cuts & the military will NOT be spared. The Pentagon had said it will further reduce its orders for JSFs if additional cuts come into effect.

    10. In Dec. 2010, the Federation of American Scientists released their report on the F-35, which revealed that all three variants FAILED to meet the respective min. combat radius benchmarks. It’s been known for many months that the F-35′s range is mediocre. Other fighter jets (e.g., Super Hornet, Rafale) fly considerably farther on a fuel load. Given the vast size of Canada & its huge, inhospitable regions, the JSF is the LAST choice to replace the CF-18 Hornet. Unless the Con. govt.’s agenda is less about sovereignty protection and more about participating in ‘kick-in-the-door’ aerial armadas with the armed-to-the-teeth but drowning-in-debt USA. To what end? Well, what did Alan Greenspan write about the U.S.-led invasion & occupation of Iran in his memoirs published in ’07? “The Iraq War is largely about oil.”

    11. The Iran War (sooner or later) will also be, fundamentally, about petroleum. Having ‘liberated’ 150+ billion barrels of Iraqi crude oil, the U.S. doesn’t need to invade Iran right now, but that will change later this century. According to the Intl. Energy Agency’s 2010 report on the global energy situation, peak oil was reached six years ago. Without petroleum, a finite resource, modern economies will grind to a halt, so nations vie w/ each other to secure access to it. We’re very lucky here in Canada to have lots of it & a relatively small pop. Not so in the oil-voracious USA.

    Why did the U.K. & France take the lead last year in terms of militarily ‘de-clawing’ the Qaddafi regime? Oil reserves in the British sector of the North Sea are well past their prime & falling & France has no significant oil reserves to tap into. The New York Times reported on Aug. 22/12: “Colonel Qaddafi proved to be a problematic partner for international oil companies, frequently raising fees and taxes and making other demands.” In other words, he got in the way of profits, so he had to go.

    ‘Protecting Libyan civilians’ was the ‘spin’ used last year to justify air strikes against Libyan targets. Sooner or later, some sort of emotion-evoking propaganda will be crafted to make attacks against Iranian targets seem ‘reasonable’ to everyone but the critical thinkers, a repeat of the demonstrable nonsense of the Bush Jr. Admin. in late ’02 & early ’03 about Saddam having active WMD programs & being in bed w/ al-Qaeda.

    Iran is sitting on too much oil to be left alone. The regime there wants nukes not to attack Israel, which would be suicidal for Iran, but for their deterrent value. Given the historical fact that the CIA, backed by Britain’s MI6 spy agency, overthrew the democratically-elected Iranian govt. of Dr. Mohammad Mossadegh in Aug. 1953 & installed their puppet, Mohammad-Reza Pahlavi, as king (shah), who, with assistance from the CIA & Israel’s Mossad spy organization, created SAVAK, the secret police force that became the Iranian equivalent of the Nazis’ dreaded Gestapo, why wouldn’t the current Iranian govt. want nukes to keep the Americans at bay? Look at how well nukes have worked for the N. Korean regime in terms of deterring U.S. military action against their country. The Iranian regime isn’t stupid; it understands geopolitics.

    The lack of significant quantities of oil is, fundamentally, why NATO countries, with help from Canada, have NOT protected Syrian civilians from being tortured & butchered during the past year – and never will. It’s a harsh reality, but the truth nonetheless.

    Wrapping up, the Harper govt. & Canada’s Dept. of National Defence have NOT been taking into account all the relevant factors, which point to an inescapable conclusion: the F-35′s price will continue to rise. No amount of believing otherwise matters. Canadians cannot afford a fleet of JSFs & the RCAF will be unable to fulfill its missions, per the CFDS, with just 35 (or fewer) altered F-35As.

  3. Any of the following would be a far cheaper but far better air superiority fighter for defending Canada’s Arctic, if that’s really what this plane is intended for:

    1) F-15, preferably stealthy Silent Eagle model in development. We could partner with the US to see this put into production like the Japanese partnered to produce the F-2A version of the F-16. A more capable and feared aircraft than the Super Hornet.
    2) Saab Gripen. Designed for northern climates and short runways making it ideal for Arctic operations, except for its single engine.
     3) Eurofighter Typhoon – could probably get a great deal on this right now what with UK’s budget issues. And no, this is not a repeat of the sub fiasco, these are world leading aircraft.
    4) Dassault Rafale – ditto above, but from France.

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