Friday, December 03, 2010

U.S. jet exec offers conflict filled testimony on F-35

That's my suggested preferred headline to this story: "U.S. jet exec shoots down criticisms of F-35." Tom Burbage of Lockheed Martin, the F-35 maker under tremendous cost pressures from the Pentagon to get the F-35 costs under control and facing possible cuts to that program, was in Ottawa yesterday to testify before the Parliamentary National Defence Committee. Clearly, his statements should be viewed in light of the pressures his company is under.

To take one, Burbage offered up the "projected likelihood that Canadian aerospace industries would get over $10 billion worth of work" in F-35 contracts. That's just a projection he's offering, as he said. It's unclear how he's backing that number up. As Le Devoir reported last week, the Pentagon has contradicted such large figures offered up by both Lockheed Martin and the Harper government, estimating instead that the potential work would be more in the range of between $3.9 billion as projected work that Canada might obtain, not $10 or $12 billion.

Additionally, it was reported that Burbage warned that Canada would lose out on contracts if we withdrew from the current agreement to buy 65 F-35s. It's getting repetitive to say but as we know, there is no agreement at present and there won't be one signed until 2014 (according to this latest report).

Such threatening statements about contract reductions represent the worst kind of spin that Lockheed Martin could self-interestedly put on Canada's ability to get contracts down the road. It is essentially a threat, pressuring us to buy the F-35s. Lockheed Martin needs us to buy those F-35s, they're under pressure to keep the eager Harper government in line. Other allies are balking and reducing their purchase numbers.

Even if we don't buy the F-35, we still, by virtue of being a participant in the JSF development program, with our monetary investment in it, have the chance to bid on contracts. No one knows, including Burbage, how such bidding would go. He did praise Canadian industry, so even he knows that Canada could still do reasonably well in such a bidding regime, even if we don't buy the F-35.

Would have been nice to read some context about Lockheed Martin and how the program is going in the U.S. in these two major Canadian media reports on the testimony. It would help people to assess how much weight they should give to such claims about projected industrial benefits, the prospect of lost contracts, etc. Shouldn't Canadians get the benefit of that information? Otherwise, it seems like we're just getting the Lockheed spin.

Ultimately, we need to make such decisions ourselves and not with a gun to our heads from Lockheed Martin executives.