Byers & Webb: F-35 a costly mistake

In an article for the Canadian Foreign Policy Journal and an accompanying story for iPolitics, Michael Byers and Stewart Webb argue that the Harper government should consider alternatives to its planned F-35 fighter-bomber purchase (“The F-35 contract is still not signed; it’s time to re-consider the alternatives,” iPolitics, 8 February 2012):

Tens of billions of much-needed tax dollars are on the line -– for the sake of what could, in the end, be nothing more than a lemon that flies.

Byers and Webb provide several reasons why Canada should look for alternatives to the F-35 (David Beers, “Bail out of F-35s while we can, argues UBC prof in Canadian Foreign Policy Journal,” The Tyee, 8 February 2012):

Ballooning costs: Prime Minister Harper has said the planes would cost no more than $75 million a piece, but “Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page estimates the per-plane cost at more than US $128 million. The Pentagon has earmarked $151 million per plane and, in April 2011, the US Government Accounting Office’s cost-estimate was $156 million.”

Delays: Glitches and cost-overruns keep pushing back the delivery date, now already “years after” the date when the CF-18 jets the stealth fighters are meant to replace are set to be retired.

Better alternatives: Byers and Webb argue the F-35’s stealth capacity makes it slower and heavier than what Canada is likely to need for future missions. The better alternative, they say, are Boeing’s F/A-18E Super Hornets, which “already fly for the U.S. and Australia and cost only about $55 million each.  As the latest version of the CF-18 series, they would also offer greatly reduced maintenance and training costs.

When questioned about the F-35 in the House of Commons on Thursday, Associate Defence Minister Julian Fantino dismissed the Byers and Webb article, calling it “‘critical of everything that is holy and decent about the government’s efforts to equip the Canadian Forces” (“F-35: Julian Fantino Makes ‘Holy’ Defence of Canada’s Fighter Jet Purchase,” Canadian Press, 9 February 2012; emphasis added).

We here at Ceasefire prefer to think that the Associate Defence Minister’s comments were misunderstood and that he was in fact acknowledging that the article was “critical of everything that is wholly indecent about the government’s efforts”.

But the media do seem pretty sure about their version. And Fantino did go on to attack Byers and other F-35 critics in the strongest terms he could apparently imagine (David Pugliese, “Julian Fantino’s new Heavenly Defence For Canada’s F-35 Purchase,” Defence Watch, Ottawa Citizen blog, 9 Febuary 2012):

Fantino dismissed the report, saying that it came from Byers who he said was not only a leftist but also a failed NDP candidate. As well, the report was done in conjunction with the Rideau Institute, and Fantino said everyone knows they are leftists as well.

US Department of Defense photo

Tags: Canadian Forces, Canadian military spending, David Pugliese, Defence spending, F-35, Julian Fantino, Michael Byers, Military spending, Rideau Institute, Stewart Webb