Thursday, January 27, 2011

Gates & MacKay to talk F-35 today

U.S. Defence Secretary Robert Gates is in town today for a trilateral summit that has turned into a bilateral defence summit with Peter MacKay. Mexico is out on account of illness. The F-35 is going to be a topic of discussion according to Gates' press secretary:
Amid sharp political debate in Canada over the government's plans to buy F-35 Joint Strike Fighters, Morrell acknowledged it was "a hot button issue" that would come up for discussion.

He said international partners were vital to keeping costs under control for the radar-evading fighter, which has been dogged by delays and rising costs.

"Our partners are needed, obviously, because the more quantity you buy, the price-per-copy will drop," he said.

"So we are obviously always trying to work with those countries that are committed to this, to keep them committed because it's for the overall good not just of the program, but of our defense posture around the world."
A bit of irony there, from Morrell. The Americans having just announced a reduction in the number of F-35s they are ordering, they can't be having any of that reduction business going on among the allies, apparently. He's also acknowledging that per plane rising costs are a big concern, despite what we hear from our government.

Gates' visit is a reminder that with the F-35 proposal, we have seen some creeping of American defence politics northwards due to the Harper government's handling of this file. Not only is there the way out in front posture Canada is taking in respect of a possible F-35 purchase, by announcing intentions years ahead of a need to buy, largely to curry favour with the U.S. We have also seen Mr. Harper and his ministers attempting to play a bit of divisive American-style politics in those communities with aerospace contractors they've visited so many times in the last six months. Recall Harper loudly urging workers to help him politically if they value such contracts while in Montreal recently. It's the kind of thing we see in the U.S., where lawmakers become beholden to local defence interests and regions are pitted against each other over contracts and budget battles. It makes for more divisiveness.

Given the "hot button" nature of the politics of the F-35, as acknowledged by the Americans, we can expect Gates to be very diplomatic about his statements today. Of course, it is Canadians alone who will decide the fate of the F-35 purchase.