Wednesday, April 25, 2012

F-35 a 'serious mismatch' for Canada's North, retired colonel says

By Jeff Davis, Postmedia News 
April 25, 2012 9:30 AM

OTTAWA — A retired air force fleet manager fired a salvo at the F-35 Wednesday, saying the strike fighter is ill-suited for Arctic missions and may become obsolete soon after it enters service.

Retired colonel Paul Maillet, an aerospace engineer and former CF-18 fleet manager, said the F-35 does not meet the needs of the government's Canada First Defence Strategy, a key pillar of which is Arctic sovereignty.

"How do you get a single engine, low-range, low-payload, low-manoeuvrability aircraft that is being optimized for close air support . . . to operate effectively in the North?" he asked.

Maillet called the F-35 a "serious strategic mismatch" to Canada's military needs, and suggested the Royal Canadian Air Force would be better off purchasing a fleet of F-18 E/F fighters.

Maillet, who twice ran as a federal Green party candidate, said the billions the government is planning to spend on F-35s would be better used on schools and health care.

Maillet, who now works as an anti-corruption consultant, said a truly competitive bidding process was never held. Instead, he said, the decision was made by the "Old Boys club of air force generals and politicians" under pressure from allies and the "military industrial complex."

The trend lines in aerial combat, Maillet said, point to manned aircraft becoming a thing of the past. Unmanned drone technology is progressing at a staggering pace, he said, and they will soon be capable of air-to-air dogfights.

Given the pace of drone development, Maillet said, the F-35 could be the last major manned fighter project. With new drone fighters not too far off, he said, Canada could hold off on a major purchase — and extend the life of the aging CF-18s — until these come to market.

"We could do the skip-a-generation thing," he said.

Meanwhile, Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page has asked the federal government for new information about the F-35 fighter jets so he can prepare an updated estimate of their real cost.

Page received a request from Liberal defence critic John McKay to "undertake an update of the life cycle cost estimate of the F-35."

In a letter to the deputy minister of national defence, Robert Fonberg, dated April 23, Page asks that the Department of National Defence hand over "information and documents" that provide a "full life cycle cost" of the aircraft.

Earlier this month, Auditor General Michael Ferguson delivered a report highly critical of the Defence Department's handling of the F-35 project.

A few days later, the government revealed it knew weeks before the last election that the aircraft would cost $10 billion more than the $14.7 billion Canadians were originally told.

The auditor general's report, released on April 3, indicated Defence Department officials twisted government rules, withheld information from ministers and Parliament, and whitewashed cost overruns and delays afflicting the F-35 program.

In the letter, Page asks specifically for "operating and support costs," which the department notably left out of previous estimates.

Page encourages the department to use the U.S. government's $137 million U.S. per aircraft price tag — which he notes has been verified by an independent, non-partisan agency.

The government has two weeks to respond to Page's request.

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