Government lacks credibility on F-35

According to Postmedia News, the Department of National Defence has been monitoring media reactions to the planned purchase of the F-35 stealth fighter to replace Canada’s CF-18s, and from what they’ve been seeing, the government has not been winning the battle for hearts and minds (Lee Berthiaume, “Credibility of DND Spokespeople Undercut by Six Different Prices for the F-35, According to Newly Released Defence Department Report,” Ottawa Citizen Defence Watch, 29 February 2012):

The Defence Department has been tirelessly tracking what the media is writing about the jets.

The information, which includes blogs and Twitter, is compiled into reports delivered to senior officials every few weeks.

The reports include a breakdown of which journalists are writing about the stealth fighters, whether their stories are positive or negative, and whether the articles addressed the F-35’s performance, delivery schedule or price.

One report, from Oct. 17, 2011, notes that over the preceding 15 months, nearly 2,900 articles had been published on the F-35, the majority of which were critical of the purchase.

When asked about the stealth fighter in the House of Commons, the Conservative government has repeatedly highlighted the F-35′s expected capabilities. But the report notes the vast majority of the articles written about the jet aren’t about its performance, but its cost.

The report also notes that the government’s inability to produce a credible cost estimate for the F-35 purchase is undercutting its credibility on the overall F-35 issue:

“Adding to the criticism is confusion over how costs should be calculated, with multiple and conflicting estimates detracting from the credibility of official sources,” the report reads.

In fact, it adds, “the absence of a single, authoritative figure on estimated per-plane cost is leaving the field open to speculation, and detracting from the credibility of spokespeople on related issues such as (the F-35′s) performance.”

The report goes on to note that during the previous month, no less than six prices had been cited by different sources.

These included a $65-million figure from manufacturer Lockheed Martin, $75 million from the Canadian Defence Department, $103 million from the head of the Pentagon’s Cost Assessment Office, $113 million from a U.S. congressional committee, $137 million from the Israeli military and $148 million from parliamentary budget officer Kevin Page.

In recent weeks the government has backed away from providing a per-plane cost figure, claiming only that the overall purchase cost of whatever number of F-35s is eventually bought will not exceed the $9 billion budgeted for the program (maintenance and operations costs excluded).

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Tags: Conservative government, Defence spending, Department of National Defence, F-35, Public opinion