Let’s Keep the Common Sense in the F-35 Debate

There has been a glimpse of common sense in the debate over Canada’s next-generation fighter aircraft, but it’s hard to see over all the name-calling, mud-slinging and partisan entrenchment. That glimpse of common sense was when our government decided, just before Christmas, to re-think the sole-source, non-competed contract to buy the F-35 as our next fighter. My worry is that common sense will now be banished from the discussion once again.

Here is a news article that describes the announcement:


I chose this article after a long search for something that actually talked more about the facts than about the political manoeuvring surrounding this huge program. As a retired member of the Canadian Forces and a businessman who’s worked for companies that provide (non-weapon) equipment and services to the military, I’m completely fed up with the focus placed on partisan opinions offered by politicians of all stripes, the media in general and all those ignorant yahoos who comment online after news stories.

I don’t care which political party makes the decision: I just want the right decision made for Canada.

Possible future Canadian fighters and their potential adversariesI’m sure we all remember the vicious debate in the early 90’s over the decision to replace our ancient Sea King helicopters with the EH-101. This relatively minor program somehow became the key issue that swept Jean Chretien and the Liberals into government in 1993 with a promise to scrap it. The new government duly cancelled the contract, paid about a billion dollars in penalties, and then spent millions more conducting a “real” procurement process. And what were the findings of that painfully-long process: the Cormorant helicopter, which is a less well-equipped version of  – you guessed – the EH-101. It was bad enough that the original choice was overturned at great expense, but at least we should have been able to take comfort in the fact that a new government had vindicated that choice and we could finally move forward. But no. To accept the Cormorant would have been so personally embarrassing to Jean Chretien that the decision was delayed for years more – basically until Chretien had retired and it could be quietly made with no mention of the 1993 bombast. And here we are, in 2013, still flying Sea Kings that were ancient in 1993.

Some may recall a less-trumpeted military procurement program that is equally absurd. This is the Victoria-class submarines, which were offered to Canada at a steal in the early 1990’s by the British who wanted to make their submarine fleet all-nuclear and they had these four, almost-new diesel boats to get rid of. From a military and economic point of view, the decision to take this virtual gift was a no-brainer, yet the government dithered for a decade while the subs sat and rusted in a British port. By the time someone in Ottawa finally agreed that these subs were a good deal and necessary to replace our Oberon subs – which were even older than the Sea Kings – the “almost-new” boats were actually approaching the requirement for mid-life refits. The past ten years have seen seemingly endless problems with the Victoria-class subs, and I can’t help but wonder how many of those problems could have been avoided if we’d actually taken them when they were first offered.

So now we’ve reopened the debate on the F-35. This is, in my opinion, a good thing since I believe that the F-35 is not the best choice when the F-18 Super Hornet is available. But I can’t help but worry that we’ve started a new, epic age of partisan name-calling, bruised egos and complete dysfunction amongst our decision-makers. Our current fleet of F-18’s are only 30 years old, so I guess we safely have another 10-20 years before they reach the antiquity of the Sea Kings and the Oberons, but God help our future pilots if common sense is once again grounded and our government succumbs to the mob-rule of armchair generals, lobby groups and name-calling, self-serving public figures.

This is not a partisan article, and I’m in no way supporting one political party over another. Please let me state my point again. I don’t care which political party makes the decision: I just want the right decision made for Canada. Wouldn’t that be a refreshing change?



Photo Credits

Fighter comparison image produced by The National Post – All Rights Reserved

F-35 Thumbnail – Wikipedia Public Domain


Recent Bennett R. Coles Articles:


  1. avatarGeorge Burden says

    If you do the math 45 billion for the F-35 works out to $1500 for every man woman and child in this country! We another 30 billion on the table for ships which is, yup, $1000 dollars for every man woman and child in the country. This is fiscal madness. Governments routinely push through decisions that put tax payers into thousands of dollars worth of debt at the stroke of a pen.

    Studies done years ago show that having a larger number of fighters without all the technological bells and whistles is tactically advantageous, not to mention economically more sensible. I guess your neighbours aren’t as impressed with you new Hyundai Accent when you can by a gas guzzling SUV five times the cost.

    • avatar says

      I think you’re right, George – military procurement often comes down to egos. I’d far rather have twice as many fourth-generation fighters than a handful of unproven fifth-generation fighters. The technological lead of American defence is so enormous over the rest of the world that we can easily be a generation behind and still keep pace with any potential threat out there.

      • avatarMax says

        I happen to agree as well. The nation’s finances are not in great shape, I’d prefer more sense in the decision making.

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