Saturday, December 11, 2010

Dissecting the F-35 purchase

Update below (Sat. p.m.).

A bit of must read material here on the government's proposed F-35 purchase. David Pugliese is doing a series, the first of which appears here: "F-35 purchase plan based on a wing and a prayer, opposition says." The footnote to that report says the next part of the series will appear on Sunday but it seems to be up at the iPolitics website now:"Selling Canada on the need for new fighter jets." Pugliese picks apart the government's presentation of the purchase and there is new material here that hasn't been reported to date.

Here are some of the highlights from the first report that appear to be new (with some thoughts in parentheses after some points):
  • there is a Defence Department calculation that puts the full cost of the proposed JSF purchase at $21 billion, higher than the $16 billion that's been widely put on it to date (the government has not been up front about this)
  • after the Harper government signed the most recent version of the JSF Memorandum of Understanding ("MOU") in 2006, even they were emphasizing at that point that the MOU did not mean Canada would be purchasing the JSF (there hasn't been much reporting on that and it begs the question of the total turnaround in rhetoric now)
  • there seem to have been different approaches within DND over how to go about this purchase, with a pro-F-35 set of advocates on the one hand and on the other, air force officers who went about preparing for and expecting a competitive bid purchase to occur (these factions are noted around the spring and summer of 2009, a year before the July 2010 announcement)
  • Conservative MPs were being lobbied by Boeing on having a competition (in support of the F-18 Super Hornet) with Boeing saying they could provide a cheaper deal with industrial benefits "equal to or exceeding the money the federal government planned to spend" (confirming that the F-35 sole-source proceeded in spite of such information, the government chose to ignore what sounds like an offer that very much deserved consideration)
  • contrary to the unanimity that the Harper government portrays, industry is divided over how widespread the benefits of the JSF will actually be to Canadian industry
  • despite the cost overruns that were coming to the fore particularly in early 2010 in the U.S. JSF program, at DND "there were no such concerns" & it was full steam ahead on the F-35 (why no concerns? why no civilian, i.e., Ministerial concern?)
  • Peter MacKay is viewed at DND as essentially a pushover, asking few questions and not challenging the military's equipment requests (raising questions of lack of oversight, leadership)
  • the U.S. pressured Canada to buy when other allies were asking questions about the F-35 (which would explain why the proposed deal was announced in the summer, when an actual deal is years away from being signed)
  • documents show that the purchase was intended to show Washington that Canada was committed to defence (raising questions about our decision-making criteria, putting reassurance of the U.S. ahead of our own priorities)
  • a DND official flew to the U.S. in early summer 2010 to brief industry representatives and put the maintenance cost of the F-35 at $12 billion whereas MacKay has put it at $5 billion (discrepancy)
  • the Harper cabinet approved the F-35 purchase in early June of this past summer but held off on a planned June announcement until mid-July due to the heat from the cost of the G8/G20 summits (a planned lead-in to the G8/G20 foiled; also, MacKay had said in the House of Commons on May 27th that there would be a competition, meaning he was either not in the loop or rather quickly corrected on that)
  • in the 1980s when Canada was choosing our current CF-18s, extensive tests of competitors occurred here in Canada at the Cold Lake base (clearly, none of that is being done with the F-35 proposed sole-sourcing, why we should be settling for less rigour now goes unexplained)
  • there is a DND criteria dating from 2006 that requires replacement aircraft for the CF-18 to be operational (the F-35 is not operational, it is in test stages and its selection violates this criteria)
In terms of the second part of the series (if this is it), it's a pretty thorough debunking of a number of the government's claims in terms of their sell job on the purchase to date: the notion that there has been a competition, that a prior Liberal government committed us to this purchase and that the Russian menace requires us to buy the F-35. Apparently on that last point, the NORAD stats contradict the Conservative government's claims that 12-18 Russian flights a year are being engaged by Canadian fighters. Turns out, those numbers are too high and Peter MacKay, in an email response, had no answer on the point.

Update: See FarAndWide's take as well. And the Beav!