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Dec 21

Our major media have been looking at these,

F-35 and New Canadian Government Documents on Fighter Procurement

and a big problem has been discovered.

1) Range:

Military will contract out air-to-air refuelling if Canada goes with F-35

The Canadian military has decided it will rely on the U.S., other allies and private companies for air-to-air refuelling if the government purchases the F-35 because the stealth fighters aren’t compatible with Canada’s current refuelling aircraft.

The revelation is buried in an explosive report released last week and means the Canadian military would be reliant on third parties to realize the full benefits of its F-35s…

Air-to-air refuelling is considered to be of critical importance to Canada’s military aircraft given the country’s massive size, particularly when it comes to conducting sovereignty missions in the North.

F-35 manufacturer Lockheed Martin initially said the stealth fighter would be compatible with Canada’s existing refuelling aircraft — a claim repeated by Defence Minister Peter MacKay.

“Lockheed Martin, the manufacturer of the plane, has confirmed that the F-35 can handle different types of refuelling systems, including the one currently used by our forces,” MacKay told Parliament on Jan. 31, 2011.

Numerous defence department documents subsequently showed the F-35 was in fact incompatible with Canada’s existing fleet of refuelling aircraft, but the military said it was examining ways to address the problem.

Now, according to accounting firm KPMG, National Defence has decided to change that plan and instead outsource air-to-air refuelling if Canada buys the stealth fighters…

“With respect to air-to-air refuelling requirements, DND will rely on (the U.S.), coalition partners, or commercial refuelling assets to meet operational requirements,” reads KPMG’s final report [scroll down here to Other Potential Acquisition Cost], which was released last week…

The RCAF has only two jet-engined CC-150 Polaris tankers, their plane best suited to refuel fighters; our older Hercules have a refuelling capability but their slower speed makes them less suitable for refuelling fighters. Those Hercs will be phased out of service over this decade. Meanwhile our 17 new CC-130Js appear to have a similar capability (though the RCAF’s site for the aircraft does not mention it):

The CC-130J Super Hercules is an advanced tactical airlifter, designed to be flexible and deliver a range of missions including combat delivery, air-to-air refuelling…

2) But then there’s ice. One finds this in the DND/CF’s “Winter 2012 FAQs” under 3. F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF):

Q3.17 Does the F-35A have an arresting hook like the CF-18?
A3.17 Although the F-35A has an arresting hook, it is not designed for routine use. The CF-18 was originally designed for use on an aircraft carrier with regular use of the arresting hook.

As such, the more robust arresting hook on the CF-18 requires less maintenance and fatigue monitoring between uses than that of the F-35. This being said, the stopping capability of the F-35 arresting hook is equivalent to the arresting hook on the CF-18 [really? see next sentence]. The difference between the two arresting hooks is the maintenance action required after usage to prepare each arresting hook for the subsequent flight [how easy at a remote northern field?].

Q3.18 Can the F-35A stop on slippery and short runways like those often experienced at Canada’s northern aerodromes?
A3.18 The F-35 landing performance studies indicate that the aircraft can be stopped on a snowy runway in less than 6000 feet without the use of additional stopping aids. When runways are contaminated with ice or a mix of slush, snow, and ice, the F-35 will require an additional stopping aid such as a drag chute or the emergency arresting hook to stop in less than 6000 feet [emphasis added]. This is similar to the CF-18, which regularly uses the arresting hook to stop on short runways in icy conditions…

Well, it does not sound to me as if the F-35A’s hook will be as effective as the CF-18s. And the standard F-35A does not come with a drag chute. Yet we find this at the “Next Generation Fighter Capability Annual Update” site under 5. National Defence Planning Assumptions:

Canadian Modifications: At this point, no unique Canadian modifications to the aircraft are planned, and there are no provisions in the estimate for costs for such modifications as the F-35A meets all operational requirements…

And the KPMG report says, again under Other Potential Acquisition Cost:

…KPMG requested and received a DND letter further summarizing DND’s requirements, assumptions and cost treatment of the drag chute, air-to-air refuelling, weapons and NORAD See footnote 12. With respect to the drag chute and NORAD , KPMG received confirmation from DND that the F-35 meets the mandatory requirements documented within the Statement of Requirement without modification and without additional cost [emphasis added] See footnote 13

So a likely less effective hook and no drag chute. So how would RCAF F-35As safely “stop on short runways in icy conditions” as its Hornets can do? Perhaps enquiring journalists will pursue the matter further.

3) Meanwhile Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page raises broader issues:

…if we would have had just more transparency early on, more debate about, ‘Is this the right plane, is the F-35 the right plane? How does it fit?’ — this is a political discussion, not my discussion, but a political discussion around do we want strike fighters, do we want stealth, how are we going to use these planes in the future, how does it fit with our other capital equipment — I think that trust would have gone up. It just would have been so much better, so that’s where we want to get to…

Points I’ve been making at this blog for some time, e.g.:

What is Canada’s New Fighter for?

Why Militarily Does Canada Need the F-35?

F-35: Flim-Flammery From a Senior RCAF General

Mark Collins is a prolific Ottawa blogger

4 Responses to “Mark Collins - If the RCAF Gets F-35s it Can’t Refuel Them–and They Couldn’t Make a Short Stop in Icy Conditions”

  1. MarkOttawa Says:

    Down south the USAF has its own worries:

    “More cuts in defense spending a “given”: Air Force

    The Air Force’s top priorities were to protect a fixed-price contract it has signed with Boeing Co for 179 new refueling planes and safeguard the already reduced annual buy of Lockheed Martin Corp F-35 fighter jets…”

    Mark Collins

  2. MarkOttawa Says:

    Mr Page asks about the new fighter:

    “…how does it fit with our other capital equipment…”

    I would add especially this:

    “Shipbuilding: If You Thought the Auditor General’s F-35 Report Caused the Government Trouble…”

    Mark Collins

  3. MarkOttawa Says:

    By the way this RCAF webpage states it has 23 older Hercs:

    Along with the 17 Jercs that makes a total fleet of 40. Which seems very large indeed. One wonders how many of the older planes are regularly operational.

    Mark Collins

  4. MarkOttawa Says:

    Discussion on refuelling issue at, scroll down:,22809.msg1196539.html#msg1196539

    Note that if the F-35’s range is extended by carrying external tanks it ain’t stealthy no more.

    Mark Collins

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