In defending his government’s plan to buy the fighter, already dogged by concerns over escalating costs, Prime Minister Stephen Harper pointed to the role of Canada’s CF-18s in the Libyan war.So there it is on the Libya justification, it simply does not make the case for stealth.
“You know, the CF-18s that are flying over Libya right now, they will come to the end of their useful life in the next few years,” he told reporters.
In recent days Conservatives John Baird and Laurie Hawn have also made statements linking the war to the need for the F-35 purchase. Keith Beardsley, a senior adviser to Harper, also noted in a National Post article that the crisis in Libya made the case for Canada’s F-35 deal.
But U.S. defence specialist Winslow Wheeler said, if anything, the Libyan war shows that sophisticated high-tech stealth fighters like the F-35 are not required.
He noted the U.S. did not use its F-22 new generation fighter, a counterpart to the F-35, in the conflict. Instead, the majority of the attacks were carried out by non-stealth aircraft such as the existing F-18s used by Canada, he added.
The Libyan air defences were a joke, said Wheeler, who has worked as a military analyst for Republican and Democratic parties and is now with the Center for Defense Information in Washington.
Note too Harper's remark that the CF-18s will come to the end of the useful life "in the next few years." 2020 is the replacement date that's been reported for the CF-18s. We just paid $274 million to ensure they can fly until that date. Harper is clearly stretching, the next few years means the next two or three to most people, not nine. Slippery, slippery. There is time to assess what Canada's military procurement needs are in terms of jet replacement.
Besides, even the U.S. Air Force, as recently reported, has said that they are not counting on operating their F-35s until 2018. This is a risky proposal Harper wants to pursue for that reason as well. Given the lengthy history of delay and cost overruns with the Lockheed Martin F-35 program, 2018 might even be optimistic.
The polls have shown the public is just not onside with Harper's F-35 deal ("...Sixty-eight per cent of Canadians agreed that “now is not a good time” to proceed with the $16-billion purchase of the F-35 fighter aircraft to replace the aging fleet of CF-18 fighters...") It's no wonder he's scrambling for the Libyan mission's cover. Thankfully, it's being quickly debunked.
P.S. Better check your right flank, Harper.