Ottawa off course on jets

Tamara Lorincz and Steven Staples comment on the government’s plan to purchase F-35 stealth fighters (Tamara Lorincz & Steven Staples, “Ottawa off course on jets,” Chronicle-Herald, 11 December 2010):

Representatives from the Department of National Defence were in Halifax recently to promote the controversial purchase of stealth fighter jets. Unfortunately, they did not give a full and frank assessment of the F-35 stealth fighter program, the largest military equipment procurement in Canadian history. Most significantly, they failed to disclose the serious risks, particularly financial, to Canadian taxpayers.

In July, Defence Minister Peter MacKay announced the government’s plan to buy 65 F-35s for an expected $9 billion, through a sole-source, non-competitive contract. The F-35 stealth fighter is marketed as a fifth-generation fighter-bomber by its maker, U.S. weapons giant Lockheed Martin. Mr. MacKay has not yet signed a contract spelling out exactly how much each plane is going to cost taxpayers.

Though Lockheed Martin may have given the minister a price estimate, a final contact won’t be signed for two or three years. Worse, the cost to the Canadian government for the support and maintenance of the high-tech stealth fighters is not known and would be negotiated later.

This program troubles Auditor General Sheila Fraser, who warned in a press conference of the high risk of cost overruns and delays for the F-35s based on her audit of the sole-sourced Cyclone and Chinook helicopter purchases in her fall report.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Government Accounting Office found escalating costs and continuing problems with F-35s in its congressional report Joint Strike Fighter: Additional Costs and Delays Risk Not Meeting Warfighter Requirements on Time.

In testimony before the Standing Committee on National Defence in October, Alan Williams, the former assistant deputy minister (materiel) for DND and author of the book Reinventing Defence Procurement, condemned the sole-sourcing of the stealth fighters.

Williams testified, “An open, fair and transparent process is critical. Undertaking sole-source deals leaves the procurement process more vulnerable to fraud, bribery and behind-the-scenes deal-making and leaves the federal government more susceptible to such charges.”

He added, “There’s a moral obligation on the part of the leaders of this country to treat our citizens with a lot more respect and provide us really truthful, rigorous, detailed and appropriate answers, not be glibly trying to defend things that are frankly, from my view, indefensible.”

It should be troubling to Canadians that Pierre Lagueux, who was the assistant minister of defence in 1997 behind the original Memorandum of Understanding for Canada to join eight other countries in the development of the F-35s, is now a lobbyist for Lockheed Martin.

As well, the prime minister’s chief of staff, Nigel Wright, sat on the board of Hawker Beechcraft, a supplier to Lockheed Martin, before he became Stephen Harper’s right-hand man.

In a televised interview, Williams said corporate lobbyists do not want an open, fair and transparent procurement process.

However, Canadian taxpayers deserve such a public, competitive process that gives a comprehensive analysis and an honest accounting of the stealth fighter program, especially when the federal government is running record-high annual deficits and adding to the national debt.

Canadians should also question if investing in next-generation fighter jets is a priority over investing in our next generation — our children, education, the environment and health care. Do we want the federal government to spend $16 billion of our tax dollars on stealth fighters?

Moreover, Canadian citizens should be consulted on what role they want for the air force and on the future of the military, something that was denied to the public by the Canada First Defence Strategy of 2008.

Other countries, such as Norway, Denmark, the Netherlands and the U.K., have postponed or reduced their commitment to purchase the F-35s because of citizens’ concerns and the uncertainty over life-cycle costs, as explained in this month’s Project Ploughshares briefing “The size of the F-35 market is overstated“.

As Winslow Wheeler, an American national security expert at the Center for Defense Information, has claimed, “the F-35’s bloat — in cost, leaden weight and mindless complexity — guarantees failure.” We agree and call on the federal government to permanently ground any plans to buy the stealth fighters.

Find out more in the report Pilot Error: Why the F-35 Stealth Fighter is Wrong for Canada, and at

Tamara Lorincz is a member of the Halifax Peace Coalition. Steven Staples is president of the Rideau Institute in Ottawa.

Tags: Defence policy, F-35, Pilot Error: Why the F-35 stealth fighter is wrong for Canada, Steven Staples, Tamara Lorincz