By Roger Annis, December 7, 2012
Press reports are saying that the federal government will cancel its multi-billion dollar purchase of the Lockheed Martin F-35, multi-purpose jet fighter aircraft. If you read the news carefully, it is the decision to purchase the aircraft via untendered bid that will be tossed out. The F-35 will stay in the running for a fighter aircraft to replace the present CF-18s (which did “service” earlier this year in the bombing of Libya).
But the escalating costs of the plane as well as the persistent reports that the thing is too complicated (it merges into one plane four or five distinct air attack functions currently served by that number of distinct aircraft) is giving the Harperites cause for pause. In the end, a less complicated attack aircraft (and bonus, less expensive!) will likely get the nod.
Is this likely cancellation of the F-35 a victory for the antiwar movement? One might think “no”, since there will be a new aircraft purchase of one description or another (barring unforeseen and unprecedented opposition by the Canadian population). But I think there are two things about this which can be called a victory.
One, the warmakers are left looking foolish by their more-than two-year exercise to press through a purchase of this particular aircraft, including lying to Parliament and the Canadian public about its true costs; bullying and ridiculing opponents or doubters, even those in ruling class ranks; etc. Quite rightly, there are calls for the resignation of Minister of Defense Peter MacKay.
And two, a skeptical media and a skeptical public brought serious attention to bear on a military procurement program and derailed it. That’s more than can be said for the shipbuilding and land equipment programs that receive next to zero scrutiny or opposition, as noted perceptively in the final sentence of the enclosed column by Jeffrey Simpson (even if the newspaper for which he writes is among the supporters of military equipment procurement).
All that said, there is need for continued opposition to new military attack aircraft, no matter how much “less expensive” the alternative choice might prove to be. Likewise, opposition should be voiced to the government’s vast warship building program announced earlier this year.
Among the best sources of news on matters military are David Pugliese of the Ottawa Citizen and Scott Taylor. Pugliese’s blog is called ‘Defense Watch.’ Taylor writes an always-informative weekly column in the Halifax Chronicle Herald. His column and his magazine and website, Esprit de Corps, are essentially pro-military, but informative nonetheless.
Coincidentally, in his latest column Taylor publishes an interesting report on the fourth annual Halifax International Security Forum that took place last month. I’m not aware of another informed, critical report on this conference.
See the enclosed two news items below that describe in some detail the F-35 fiasco.
‘It’s panic all over’ as Ottawa rethinks F-35 purchase
By Steven Chase, Globe and Mail, Dec 8, 2012
The ballooning lifetime cost of the F-35 fighter and Ottawa’s decision to shop around for alternatives are creating panic among Canadian companies betting on supply contracts for the Lockheed Martin plane, sources say.
“It’s panic all over.… They are very concerned at this stage,” a Defence Department source said. “The numbers are a lot bigger than anybody could imagine,” the source said, adding reports that Ottawa is preparing to back away from its 2010 choice of the F-35 and mull buying another plane are casting doubts on the future of Canada’s involvement with the cutting-edge jet.
“The messages are fuzzy enough [from Ottawa] that it looks like they are looking at backing off, delaying it.”
As The Globe and Mail reported Friday, the Harper government is looking for alternatives to the controversial F-35 Lightning fighter jet in the most significant demonstration yet that it is prepared to walk away from its first choice for a new warplane. It is planning to release figures next week showing that the full lifetime costs of the F-35 have surpassed all previous forecasts and now exceed $40-billion.
Canadian companies are able to bid for work supplying the F-35 project because Canada has signed onto a memorandum of understanding with other countries that are pooling efforts to purchase the planes. While the Harper government is considering buying different jets, it has given no indication it is prepared to back out of the memorandum.
Spokespeople for Lockheed Martin refused to comment directly and released a statement that recalled the company’s long association with the Canadian military. “Lockheed Martin has been a partner with the Canadian Forces for more than 50 years. We continue to look forward to supporting the Government of Canada as they work to provide the Royal Canadian Air Force with a 5th Generation fighter capability for their future security needs,” the company’s statement said.
Maryse Harvey, a spokeswoman for the Aerospace Industries Association of Canada, said her group will not make remarks on the matter until the Harper government officially announces its plans.
Defence Minister Peter MacKay said Ottawa will explain itself next week on what it is doing to replace Canada’s aging CF-18 fighters. “There’s been a lot of speculation over the last 24 hours … next week there’ll be an open and transparent discussion about the next steps that are going to follow in the CF-18 replacement,” the Defence Minister said.
In an attempt to head off public skepticism that Ottawa’s new “options analysis” is something less than a rigorous rethink of which jet is best, the government is enlisting four independent monitors to vet the process. They will include retired Lieutenant General Charles Bouchard, who led the NATO mission in Libya, and University of Ottawa professor Philippe Lagassé, an outspoken critic of the jet procurement.
The Conservatives announced in July, 2010, they had decided to buy the F-35 without any competition, and for more than a year and a half, described the jet purchase as a $9-billion acquisition. But in April, 2012, Auditor-General Michael Ferguson revealed it would cost $25-billion for the first 20 years alone.
Next week, the government will start this process by releasing National Defence’s updated cost estimates for buying 65 F-35 fighters, and an independent review by KPMG of the forecast price for keeping the jets flying for their full lifespan. The planes are expected to last 36 years, and they should be costed as such, the Auditor-General suggested in his April report.
Sources say the full price of ownership for the F-35 would add up to more than $40-billion when all costs, including fuel and upgrades, are included – or more than $1-billion a year over the F-35s’ lifespan.
F-35 fiasco knocks Conservative spin off its axis
By Geoffrey Simpson, Columnist, Globe and Mail, Dec 8, 2012
Where to start in describing the fiasco of the F-35 fighter jet contract? From the moment the Harper government inherited the F-35 program from the Liberals, its handling of the file has featured photo ops, deceptions, endless political spin (of course), errors of fact, contradictions and relentlessly upward cost estimates.
The mind blurs with images of ministers smiling and waving in F-35 prototypes; the Prime Minister campaigning at company sites bragging about all the jobs the contract would bring Canada; Conservative MPs defiantly defending the increasingly indefensible on those partisan television panels.
Slowly at first but then with gathering speed, third-party reviews shattered the government’s defence of the purchase of 65 F-35s, “next generation” stealth aircraft eagerly sought by the Defence Department. The contract, insisted the government, would cost $9-billion for the aircraft, and $7-billion for maintenance over 20 years. Over and over, Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Defence Minister Peter MacKay and the entire Conservative chorus repeated this mantra.
Critics in the U.S. alerted Congress that cost overruns were plaguing the project. The Parliamentary Budget Office in Ottawa said, no, the cost would be more like $30-billion over 30 years, for which the PBO was predictably denounced by the chorus.
Alan Williams, a former assistant deputy minister who had forgotten more about procurement than any minister had ever learned, warned repeatedly that the project was off the rails. Predictably, the Conservative chorus denounced him. The Speaker of the House found the government in contempt of Parliament for refusing to reveal the full costs, but that didn’t stop the government from being re-elected.
Other countries, alarmed at the F-35’s mounting costs and questionable technical reviews, began to delay purchase commitments. Still, the Conservative chorus stuck with the mantra, denouncing all doubters as anti-defence, pacifists and know-nothings.
Deeper and deeper, the Harperites dug themselves into the hole of their own rhetoric – until Auditor-General Michael Ferguson’s devastating report last April unveiled the true costs to be way higher than the government’s mantra. Worse, the report said the Defence Department had told the government that costs had skyrocketed. Yet, the government, campaigning for re-election, kept that information from the public.
It was one thing for the Conservative chorus to denounce partisan critics, media skeptics and the Parliamentary Budget Office, but it could hardly denounce the Auditor-General.
Suddenly, the government spin machine confronted the need to reverse spin. Mr. MacKay was pushed out of the limelight, since he had uttered too many false predictions and had become so personally associated with the project. Public Works Minister Rona Ambrose was put in charge (nominally) of a new review of the project within the government that included outside auditing help. This audit reportedly has shown the cost of the project to have ballooned to more than $30-billion – this is bad news from a government that presents itself as a careful steward of the public purse.
The Harper spin machine has really got its hands full now. Having insisted that the F-35 was the only plane to replace the aging CF-18s, that stealth technology was indispensable, that the costs were what the government had insisted they would be (despite knowing the contrary), that a full review of all available options had already been concluded at the time Canada agreed to join the U.S.-led planning for the F-35, that all the hundreds of millions of dollars already sunk into the project were down payments well spent, the spin machine now must try to make everyone forget these assertions.
Yet, another new process will be unveiled, with outsiders being asked to review the possibility of buying other aircraft than the F-35. Of course, the government will insist the F-35 hasn’t been “cancelled,” for that would be to eat too much crow in one gulp. Willingness to consider other options will fly in the face of every assertion the government has ever made.
Deeper still, the F-35 fiasco reveals systemic problems with military purchasing – problems also apparent with submarines, surface ships and army trucks.