A leaked US document has put the Canadian government under fire over the proposed F-35 purchase.
Nov. 16, 2014 - By DAVID PUGLIESE – Defense News
VICTORIA, BRITISH COLUMBIA — A leaked US document has raised new questions about Canada’s involvement in the F-35 program and given critics of the fighter jet as well as opposition members of Parliament new ammunition to accuse the Canadian government of misleading the public about the proposed acquisition.
An Oct. 27 briefing by US Air Force Lt. Gen. Chris Bogdan, F-35 Program Executive Office director, outlined how Canada intends to initially purchase four F-35s. That flies in the face of continued Canadian government assurances that no decision had been made about whether the country would buy the aircraft.
Defense News has seen a copy of the document.
Canada’s Conservative Party government originally committed in 2010 to purchasing 65 F-35s, but the acquisition soon became a major political albatross around the neck of Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
Opposition Parliament members alleged his government misled Canadians about the F-35’s price and performance.
In April 2012, Auditor General Michael Ferguson found that Department of National Defence officials withheld key information from Parliament about the jet, underestimated costs and didn’t follow proper procurement rules.
The government, under continuing fire about the increasing cost of the F-35s, announced in December 2012 it would put the procurement on a temporary hold and examine other aircraft. That process is ongoing, government ministers said.
But Bogdan’s briefing to US Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James undercuts those claims. Bogdan pointed out that Canada wants to “swap” four aircraft destined for the US Air Force and receive those as early as 2015.
The aircraft would be replaced at a later date by Canada.
Bogdan noted in the 14-page briefing deck that the US Air Force agrees with the plan as long as the F-35 initial operating capability date of 2016 remains on schedule and no other allies make similar requests.
For the swap to happen, Canada needs to deliver a letter of intent to the F-35 project engineering office this month, the briefing points out. Congress would also have to be notified.
Kyra Hawn, spokeswoman for the F-35 Joint Program Office, said the “briefing was for official use only. It was to inform future decisions regarding Canada’s F-35 acquisition. We will not be commenting any further on the content of the slides.”
Lockheed Martin spokesman Mike Barton referred questions to Canada’s Public Works Department “as these would be government-to-government type discussions and nothing we would be privy to.”
Marcel Poulin, press secretary for Public Works Minister Diane Finley, said, “No decision has been made on the replacement of Canada’s CF-18 fleet.”
He did not explain why Bogdan was informing James about Canada’s decision to proceed with the F-35 if the Canadian government still had not made a decision on purchasing the aircraft.
But analysts and opposition MPs are pointing to Bogdan’s briefing as a smoking gun that proves the Conservative Party government has been misleading Parliament and the Canadian public.
“Getting into the production line this fiscal year is clearly an intention to go ahead and buy those planes,” said Jack Harris, defense critic with the official opposition New Democratic Party.
He noted that the Bogdan briefing proves the Canadian government is “going behind the backs of Canadians” and that it plans to move ahead with the acquisition despite continuing concerns about the F-35 and its costs.
“[The public is] just being deceived by this government taking action without the kind of transparency that’s required, without the proper debate, without notifying Canadians, without notifying Parliament,” Harris added.
Alan Williams, the former Canadian defense procurement chief, said the information contained in Bogdan’s briefing raises questions about the government’s claims it is examining other aircraft besides the F-35 to replace the CF-18s.
“The government claims about a fair and transparent process are called into question,” Williams said.
Some Canadian aerospace industry representatives and political analysts, such as Michael Byers of the University of British Columbia, see the move as designed to quickly lock the country into an F-35 purchase before any competition could be considered.
Industry representatives said the move was clumsy, destined to fail and will only provide further ammunition for F-35 critics.
Canada is still an official partner in the F-35 program and has not informed the US government or Lockheed Martin of any plans to change that. Canada operates 78 CF-18 fighter aircraft. It was originally planning to replace those with the conventional take-off and landing version of the F-35.
In the meantime, the Canadian government has ordered a modernization program for the CF-18s to keep them flying until 2025.
Johanna Quinney, spokeswoman for Defence Minister Rob Nicholson, said the modernization project is expected to start in 2016 and be completed in 2019.
The program will include replacement of some flight controls, as well as structural and avionics upgrades. Core CF-18 avionics systems will also need to be augmented to provide secure communications between the CF-18 and allied units, Quinney said. The aircraft’s software will also be modernized and simulators will be upgraded.