F-35 may be incapable of communicating in the Arctic

Photo courtesy of Flickr

According to a recent Globe and Mail article (Murray Brewster, “New stealth fighters lack ability to communicate from Canada’s north,” Globe and Mail, 23 October 2011), briefings given to the Air Force’s top general indicate that early models of the F-35 Lightning II may be unable to communicate while operating in Canada’s North. 

Lockheed Martin, the jet’s manufacturer, has confirmed that satellite communications software needed to communicate in the Arctic will not be available in the aircraft’s initial production runs. A senior company official told the Globe and Mail that even the hoped-for 4th-phase introduction of the software “hasn’t been nailed down yet,” adding that “as you can imagine there are a lot of science projects going on.”

The potential communication problems in the Arctic are embarrassing for the government, which has argued that defence of the North is one of the major reasons for purchasing the aircraft. As it currently stands, the radio and satellite communications on the newly-modernized CF-18s may be more capable than those expected on the initial F-35s. There is no reason to expect that this communications hurdle won’t eventually be overcome, but the problem adds one more reason to doubt the government’s optimistic assessment of the readiness of the aircraft for Canadian use.

There are also questions about the difficulty the RCAF may have in utilizing its current air-to-air refueling system with the new F-35.

Tags: Arctic sovereignty, Defence policy, F-35, Military spending