Mark Collins - The Real Enemy in Afghanistan Alan Stephenson - NORAD – the next frontier
Nov 08

With respect, my reply to Commodore Lerhe’s response to my earlier comments. To be clearer with regard to my observation that,

Mastery of the electronic spectrum using sophisticated jammers will undoubtedly deny enemies a first shoot opportunity, i.e. they may be able to see us but there is nothing they can do about it…

I certainly do not think this broad statement suggests that jamming will deny detection, obviously not. I am simply saying that modern, sophisticated and up-to-date defensive electronic warfare (EW) equipment should deny the enemy a first-shoot opportunity. Effective offensive EW should remove the radar threat.

In the end, the F-35 may be a good aircraft. It does represent the next generation of fighter aircraft but the leap is not as extensive as many may think when compared to 4.75 generation fighters like the Block II Super Hornet or F-15 Silent Eagle. Pair that with all the cost and development problems of the F-35 and one really has to question this direction.

If we agree that Canada is a good coalition partner then we should show up to the dance with a solid capability in numbers we have committed to. If the Conservatives stick to their nine billion dollar envelope then I would suggest that it is extremely likely that the 65 acquisition will be reduced to something around 40.

Seriously, what do we expect to do with 40, or even 65, of anything? The 138 CF-18s originally acquired were justified by considering our commitments, attrition, training requirement, and long term serviceability. The decision to modernize 79 aircraft was purely an economical one and did not coincide with a permanent reduction in aircraft committed to either NORAD or NATO. My understanding of the government’s plan to distribute 65 aircraft includes 24 aircraft at each of the two fighter wings and the remaining 17 at a training facility most probably located in the United States. Assuming the RCAF gets all 65 aircraft, the 48 aircraft available for operations would not be enough to cover both our NORAD and NATO obligations concurrently even assuming all aircraft were serviceable all the time. Reduction in aircraft availability due to maintenance requirements and statistical attrition will quickly drive Canada in a direction where it will be unable to provide even a token contribution simultaneously–let alone its declared commitment.

Let’s face it. Technology breeds technology. That’s to say that it’s reasonable to assume that anything we buy in the short term will most probably be marginalized sooner rather than later. What version of the iPad do you think will be around in 2050? The F-35 does not come with a completely different propulsion system or a cloaking device.

I think the smarter move would be to buy something that is affordable, interoperable, supportable, and upgradable. In numbers that are respectable. Something that, out of the box, will satisfy the Canada First Defense Strategy and our commitments to both NORAD and NATO. Realistically, the F-35 will not achieve the former without additional monies thus further exacerbating its already ugly financial outlook. Oh, and it will never have two engines.

I also would like to pass on the following observations from a very knowledgeable serving RCAF officer:


I don’t agree with Eric Lerhe on the following points:

1. The inability to rely on ground alert when detection ranges are inside 250 kms. This is very two dimensional thinking. It is a correct statement if the detection device is located a the spot you are trying to defend (along with your fighters). If the detection device or array of detection devices are geographically dispersed, put “up threat” or in the ultimate high ground - space, ground alert becomes a possibility again. Fighters aren’t the only aircraft with radars and sometimes it makes much more sense to run one airborne warning radar for a long period of time than a bunch of fighters airborne with fire control radars. Additionally, depending on the type of threat, a change in search spectrum is beneficial.

2. Ground defences aren’t another option; they should be considered a complementary aspect. Any comprehensive defence plan requires the use of a host of unique systems. It makes solving the problem that much more difficult for the adversary. If we just use (fill in the blank), it will soon be characterized, understood and defeated. A complex set of capabilities make it far more challenging to defeat and overcome as an individual system’s weaknesses will be covered by another system’s strength and so on.

3. The point about the US not wishing to have something with 1000 time larger RCS anywhere near it is not true or just a leading overstatement. I don’t believe I’ve read anything about stealth tankers anywhere and I’m pretty certain we will still intend to refuel in the brave new world. The USN is also planning on running F-35 and F18-E/F/G tactically as their capabilities are complementary. It is quite obvious that we wouldn’t want to hazard a formation attempting to penetrate defences purely based on their low observable characteristics by drawing attention to them with high RCS fighters but we still need higher RCS, lower cost fighters, too. There are far too many targets to rely on ultra-expensive, unescorted fighters to win the war. This is the fighter version of the USAAF argument to become the USAF - except for the Army Air Force it was that strategic bombing would save the day. Now it is stealth fighters. Either way we need a range of capability. Although I don’t have the exact stat, probably over 90% of conflict falls within the “small wars” category. We don’t even need F-18As for these and much has been written about the US bankrupting itself by flying B-1s and F15-Es to chase insurgents around the desert. In these cases, armed Harvard IIs make more sense tactically, economically and therefore strategically.

4. Stealth is important but perhaps not the way Lerhe means. Stealth enables surprise - a key principle of warfare. Stealth has been employed for centuries to gain advantage, initiative and decisiveness in operations. As we become more aware of other spectrums of observation, stealth falls into many varieties. Regardless, surprise can be achieved with very low technology by applying strenght to adversary weakness. Additionally, history shows that low observable technology always takes longer to develop than to counter. Once a stealth aircraft is characterized and understood, very simple and inexpensive methods are developed to negate the advantage. Secrecy becomes very important. The F-22, F-117 and B-2 have had the benefit of limited fleet sizes and limited exposure to foreign scrutiny. I argue that despite every nations’ best intentions, when 2400 F-35s are flying all over the world, the jet’s stealth aspects will be quickly characterized. As a force we can’t rely on this static “stealth” based on superior technology. We need to purchase our “stealth” via combined operations incorporating information superiority, cyber operations, space control, uncompromising C4ISR, diplomatic power, economic power, direct action and Electronic Warfare to only name a few of our wingmen when planning the package flow. Many elements can keep radar energy off my aircraft in combat. Additionally, interoperability is a high intellectual hurdle, not a high technological one.

Major (ret’d) Steve Fuhr is a former CF-18 pilot and was CF-18 Fleet Manager at 1 Canadian Air Division for five years

4 Responses to “Steve Fuhr - Continuing the F-35 Debate”

  1. monkey Says:

    I am going to wade in mostly because I am tired of the media’s general lack of knowledge on this debate. I am an actual current CF-18 pilot who was flown all variants of the modernized versions. I have also flown against and with all variants of the Super Hornet that Steve seems to like so much. I have just a couple points.

    1). Official costing numbers DND has received from Boeing are in fact no cheaper than the F-35.

    2). The Super Hornet dos not go faster, or further, or carry any more weapons than the current Canadian version.

    3) I do not know any currently serving CF-18 pilot who prefers the Super Hornet over the F-35. unfortunately most of the strengths of the JSF are highly classified capabilities that cannot be discussed here which make it difficult for the pro-F-35 camp to argue their case. General public and non-security cleared folks should trust the judgement of the current CF-18 cadre.We know what we want,and why.

  2. Picasso Says:

    Let’s have a look at each of your points Monkey:

    1) The most correct answer with regard to the cost of the F35 is no one really knows the answer. LM has said, “Canada will pay what the jet costs at the time of purchase.” Makes sense. What we do know is that everyone on this planet, except the Conservatives, are saying that the F-35 will be considerably more than 75 million an airframe. I guess we could assume that the Conservatives also now question this because they have recently switched gears and are now saying they have a “9 billion dollar envelope” to purchase the F-35. So, since it is more likely than not the F-35 will be more than 75 million a frame I guess we’ll end up with less jets or we’ll have to spend more money to get 65 aircraft. If you don’t really know the cost of the F-35 then how can you say the Boeing Super Hornet is no cheaper than the F-35?

    2) The debate here is whether there is a more cost effective solution that meets our needs now and into the future. The Super Hornet is a more capable aircraft than the legacy Hornet. That is not debatable. The individual performance issues you site have been addressed in the Super Hornet roadmap. DND doesn’t know this because DND did not get a classified brief from the US Navy on the Super Hornet’s true capability during the due diligence process. This is a well known fact that has been highly publicized.

    3) I know more than a few current and serving Hornet drivers that think, given the options, the Super Hornet is the best choice for Canada. An easy argument that will usually surface in the end when justifying the F-35 is that of its “classified” capabilities. If I was a betting man I’d bet the Super Hornet has a few “Classified” capabilities of its own? Maybe DND should inquire?

  3. monkey Says:

    The money issue is the money issue. I think anyone who doesnt have his head in the sand understands that the F-35 will cost more than the orginal number quoted. That is a fact. It all depends however on how the costing is done, etc etc and a lot of the discrepancies come from these different costing methodologies. We need to consider also however that F/A-18 sticker price does not include such things as weapons, jammers, RWR and other EW gear or fuel tanks. I was involved peripherally with NGFC stuff early on and the F/A-18 prices we were given did not include pylons or the M61A1 either. The fact that ANY fighter, particularly a twin engine fighter, is going to be anywhere near what the costs you see in the media is pure fallacy. F-35 cost is for an integrated weapon system which to an air force our size is worth it -after all these years we are still paying the price for attempting to integrate non Boeing systems onto the F-18. We have issues with Sniper, AMRAAM, GBU-49 (still which has not achieved IOC) which we simply do not have the horsepower to solve with an air force our size. A lot of this stems from USN hesitance to share information with Canada.

    DND has inquired already. We routinely fly with both the Super Hornet and EA-18G as well as the F-22A in TS level exercises. There is no comparison between the F/A-18E/F and a 5th generation aircraft. I think you would be surprised. These events I am speaking to are specially designed exercises that a small number of Hornet pilots are permitted to participate in. I flew with Block II Super Hornets and Growlers recently and I can tell you that other than the APG-79 and some EW gear they are not significantly more capable than the R2 CF-18 and they fared no better than we did. Gen 5 LO aircraft are a different capability set altogether. The classification issue is not an easy justification - it is a fact. There are technological secrets that need to be protected and very VERY few people have read ins to this program, including high level commanders in the CF. If you do not have access to F-35 program details, you have no argument as the knowledge level is just not there. Sorry nothing personal.

  4. Picasso Says:

    Monkey, money is a huge part of the issue. To attach ourselves to a project with unknown costs of this magnitude is irresponsible. If you’ve seen the news lately you’d find that Canada is the only country of the nine that is declaring to the world that the F-35 is on time and on budget. Seriously! The other eight countries, including the USA, are either delaying the decision, reducing their orders, or looking at other options concurrently. There is not a bottomless pit of funds. As the total number of F-35 orders decreases the price per unit goes up. Combine that with LM now sharing in the “risk” of the project and the price per unit is headed for the moon. Remember we’ve got 9 billion dollar budget. Is the RCAF going to be happy with 40 jets?

    I agree with your assessment of how we’ve managed our legacy Hornet. We tried far too many times to integrate non Navy equipment onto a Navy airplane. Not surprising we had issues. The RCAF is far too small an Air Force to solve the problems it continues to create for itself.

    The truth of the matter is we do not need F-35 to protect our Sovereignty or meet our NATO or NORAD commitments. Canada is not an autonomous Air Force outside its own boarders when it comes to projecting air power. We provide capability to the coalition of the willing that I argue will be far more valuable in term of numbers of aircraft than in a few of the (perceived) very best aircraft. France and Germany will fly Eurofighter and Rafale as their front line fighters for many decades to come. The US Navy will operate twice the Super Hornets as F-35C. So interoperability and supportability problems solved. If, over time, DND chooses manage the next aircraft like it managed the legacy Hornet then expect supportability and integration problems.

    To say the USN has been uncooperative in supplying Canada with information on our current fleet has nothing to do with Canada getting a classified brief on the capabilities of the Super Hornet. The Government of Canada has to request these briefings from the United States Government at the highest levels. This was not done. For the Government to say the F-35 is the only aircraft that will meet Canada’s requirements is also, at best, misleading. Maybe that’s why no one outside the Government has seen requirements of any kind.

    I’m sure your experience of flying against the F-22A was an eye opener. But let’s not confuse the 5th generation capabilities of the F-22A with those of the F-35. Regardless of what I don’t know there are those who do that saying the same.

    So what are we left with? The Government/DND wants to buy a “few” aircraft, that by all accounts, are astronomically expensive and will require a bunch more money to integrate into our current Canadian infrastructure. Or….we could buy a plug and play aircraft that meets our genuine needs now and into the future. One that is supportable, interoperable, upgradeable and affordable. Do you realize that by the time the F-35 reaches large scale operational service (maybe 2020) it will be nearly 25 years in development? I am certain there is nothing I don’t know about the F-35 that would justify what I do.

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