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Nov 07

Readers will know that I am highly critical of the Canadian government’s F-35 (oops! next-generation fighter) acquisition. So almost universally have been our journalists. But one does wish they would report accurately. Consider this from the Hill Times, which has given extensive coverage to the subject:

Australian AG says each F-35 fighter jet to cost $131.4-million, same version Canada slated to buy

The F-35 stealth fighter jet costs that the U.S. Department of Defense provided to Canada’s Department of National Defence last May showed the price for the F-35 version, which the Harper government intends to buy, had risen to $131.4-million per plane [holy not news! see below], according to the same cost estimates the U.S. gave to Australia, which is slated to buy a fleet of the same version of the warplane…

The Sept. 27 report from Australian Auditor General Ian McPhee [see this Oct. 3 post: “F-35: Australian National Audit Office Report“], using the same cost estimates that the Canadian government acquired from the U.S. Department of Defense as early as last May 1, forecasts an expected reduction in the purchase price of the F-35 which is crucial to Canadian government expectations that Canada will be able to buy the aircraft at a cost of about $84-million per plane.

But the report pegs the low-cost year at 2019, three years after Canada was scheduled to begin acquiring 65 of the stealth fighters over several years…

“As of June, 2012, the JSF Program Office estimated the F-35A [air force version] CTOL’s [conventional takeoff and landing] URF [Unit Recurring Flyaway cost] to be $131.4-million [U.S.] for fiscal year 2012, reducing to $127.3-million in 2013, and reducing further to $83.4-million in 2019,” the Australian audit report says…

Ah ha! So that $131 million is the URF [basic plane plus engine] cost right now–not when either Australia or Canada will be buying most of the planes. And in 2019 the projected cost is $83 million. Now let’s look at what our government’s purchase schedule was a year ago before our Auditor General’s report hit the turbofan:

Canada’s New Fighter: Over a Barrel?

The government’s current F-35 acquisition schedule:

The delivery of all 65 jets is being spread out between 2016 and 2023, with most of the radar-evading aircraft arriving after 2019, according to figures provided by the office of Associate Defence Minister Julian Fantino…

According to access-to-information records, Canada is expected to buy 13 F-35s between 2016 and 2019. A further 52 will follow between 2020 and 2023 [in other words 80 % of the fleet–maybe last actually by 2022, see chart here]…

So that $131 million figure is not that relevant to us (and it’s not new, see just below)–why headline it? You know the answer. In fact it’s the lower $83 million one that is important. And it is a figure that I just don’t believe will be met, with the slowdown in US purchasessee this post from March which also has the cost figures used by the Australian AG, the lower one is just a “target”, and the reductions in foreign buys–see 2) here and Comment 1.

The real F-35 problem for us, other than costs, is how long our fleet of CF-18s will have to kept operational: what that will cost and what effects it will have on flying hours and availability. From the end of the post quoted above:

Now for that barrel, it’s at the centre of the fuselage of the CF-18.

It seems to me that after 2020, unless some–likely costly, further life extension is given to the Hornets, for several years Canada will not have enough fighters available to meet RCAF commitments. Remember 65 is the minimum number including our NORAD commitments, more hereplus this:

…Canada is committed to providing at least 36 fighters for North American air defence and when normal maintenance cycles are included, the government’s purchase leaves few jets available for overseas missions [such as seven for Libya, see Trapani Detachment]…

Or the Hornets’ flying hours could simply be seriously curtailed as the F-35s are awaited. Or another aircraft could be acquired that would arrive on time.

Keeping Hornets flying is also a major concern of the Aussie AG, see end of this post. Meanwhile LockMart keeps that smiley face:

Lockheed’s Dubious Claim: Stealth Fighter Will Get Stealthier With Age

See also end of this post and Comment 3. for more on smiley–and other–faces.

Mark Collins is a prolific Ottawa blogger

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