13th June 2014 DefenceIQ
For the first time in two years, the path is clear for the Conservative government to select Canada’s next fighter jet, a choice that could very well mean buying the controversial F-35 Lightning without a competition.
A panel of independent monitors on Thursday gave its blessing to a still-confidential Royal Canadian Air Force report that evaluated the risks and benefits of purchasing four different warplanes and has been forwarded to the federal cabinet.
Sources say cabinet is expected to make a decision on fighters within the next couple of weeks.
Thursday’s seal of approval fulfilled the Harper government’s final obligation before making a pivotal decision to either buy the F-35 without competition or open the field to bidding from all jet makers.
The Tories froze this procurement in 2012 after blowback over an earlier decision to buy the F-35 that critics said was made with a lack of due diligence. After a damning Auditor-General’s report, the Harper government vowed to hold off until it had fulfilled a “seven-point plan” to restart the process of replacing Canada’s aging CF-18s.
But as of Thursday, the seven-point plan has been fulfilled. Government sources say the federal cabinet is “more than likely” to take up the report in the next few weeks.
A four-member independent review panel gave the government the affirmation it was seeking, saying it had no hesitation in pronouncing the RCAF’s assessment of Lockheed Martin’s F-35, the Dassault Rafales, the Boeing Super Hornet and the Eurofighter Typhoon “rigorous and impartial.”
Former federal comptroller-general Rod Monette, one of the panelists, compared the group’s independent seal of approval to the Auditor-General signing off on the government’s books.
Still, the panel acknowledged the measurements used to analyze the fighters were based on the same Conservative defence policy used to justify the now-aborted decision in 2010 to buy 65 F-35s without a competitive bidding process.
“The policy is used to guide acquisitions,” said Philippe Lagassé, a military expert at the University of Ottawa who was a member of the independent panel.
The federal government opted to analyze the technical data from four fighter jets through the lens of its 2008 Canada First Defence Strategy. [Globe and Mail]
Air Canada Flight 001 took off from Toronto on May 28, 2012, with 325 passengers on-board. Just 500 metres into the air, an engine failed and the Boeing 777 returned to Pearson airport. The Transportation Safety Board later determined the failure was the result of a manufacturing fault, which had caused damage that mechanics failed to detect during a regular inspection.
The engine failure on Air Canada Flight 001 is relevant to a decision faced by the Harper government. Canada’s CF-18 fighter jets are set to retire in 2020. As the first step in the replacement process, the government must decide whether to proceed with its previously planned non-competitive purchase of F-35s.
The passengers and crew of Air Canada Flight 001 were never in danger because the Boeing 777 has two engines. Pilots of the F-35 would not be so fortunate; the aircraft has only one engine, any failure of which would lead to a crash.
Since the Harper government announced its intent to purchase the F-35 in 2010, it has claimed there is no statistical evidence showing that single-engine fighters are any less safe than twin-engine fighters. In reality, such evidence is readily available from the website of the U.S. Air Force Safety Center.
The evidence shows that while engine reliability has improved over time, twin-engines are still safer than single-engines. Consequently, Canadians should be asking, if twin-engine fighters are safer, why would we buy single-engine jets?
The F-35 was developed to satisfy the U.S. government’s desire for a “strike fighter” that could — in three different versions built around a common airframe — serve the U.S. marines, U.S. air force and U.S. navy. As the marines required a single-engine design for short takeoff and vertical landing, the U.S. navy and U.S. air force were forced to accept the same single-engine design for their versions of the F-35.
The U.S. air force only accepted the single-engine design for the F-35 alongside a more advanced twin-engine fighter. Indeed, the U.S. air force plans to use its larger, faster, more manoeuvrable and safer F-22 to protect the F-35 from enemy fighters. As U.S. General Michael Hostage, the head of Air Combat Command, told the Air Force Times: “The F-35 is not built as an air superiority platform. It needs the F-22.”
In contrast, Canada has no interest in short takeoff and vertical landing capability, no need to accommodate the U.S. marines by accepting a single-engine design, and no plans for a parallel purchase of twin-engine fighters to protect the F-35.
Nor is the F-35 more manoeuvrable, more powerful, faster or longer-ranged than the twin-engine fighters available to Canada. On the contrary, as the RAND Corporation explained in 2008: “It can’t turn, can’t climb, can’t run.”
One final, crucially important factor is Canada’s unique geography, which exacerbates the safety risks associated with a single-engine design.
Canada has the second largest land mass in the world as well as the longest coastline of any country.
With their small wings, there is no real prospect of gliding a fighter jet to safety if power is lost — unless it is already on a final approach or very near an airport.
This leaves pilots of single-engine jets with little choice but to eject, which in the Arctic or a cold northern ocean leaves them with just hours to live. The United States and some other countries have excellent search-and-rescue systems; Canada, sadly, does not.
When former defence minister Peter MacKay was asked whether he was concerned about procuring a fighter jet with only a single engine, which could fail and force pilots to eject in the Arctic, he replied in just two words: “It won’t.”
This is an unrealistic and reckless attitude. Engine failures will still occur, and when they do so away from an airport, a second engine is the only thing that can prevent a crash.
As one former CF-18 pilot told FrontLine Defence magazine in May 2011: “A single engine is stupid. There’s no backup. If it fails, you’re dead.” [The Star]
The Pentagon said it is pushing builders of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter to invest their own funds to reduce the cost of the $399 billion weapons program, and that it is eyeing financial incentives and penalties to get overseas buyers to stick to their order commitments for the jet.
The twin moves announced Thursday by senior Pentagon officials mark a major upgrade of its effort to shift more of the burden of the delayed and over-budget F-35 program to other stakeholders at a time when the department's own procurement funds are shrinking.
Lockheed Martin Corp., Northrop Grumman Corp., BAE Systems PLC and the Pratt & Whitney unit of United Technologies Corp. are the largest contractors for the F-35, which Pentagon officials said is on track to be declared combat ready by the U.S. Marine Corps in July 2015. The program also involves hundreds of other companies, and around 30% of the jet by value is built outside the U.S.
Pentagon officials in the past have expressed frustration that the Defense Department has been left to pay for upgrades and modifications to the F-35. On Thursday, Frank Kendall, the Pentagon's acquisition chief, told reporters he was looking to contractors to invest "tens of millions" of dollars of their own funds to help lower the jet's cost. While its purchase prices have fallen with successive batches acquired by the U.S., defense officials said in April the overall cost of the program had climbed for the first time in two years because of rising overhead expenses and exchange-rate effects.
Some 80% of targeted cost improvements have been tied to boosting F-35 annual production rates from 40 to more than 100, but the latest push includes possible changes to manufacturing facilities and processes or even part of the jet's design to improve affordability, said Sean Stackley, the Navy's acquisition chief, following a two-day meeting with contractors at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida.
Such changes would be paid for by contractors, though Mr. Kendall said incentives for contractors to invest in lowering the F-35's cost would aim to ensure a "win-win" for both sides. These could include accelerating or withholding progress payments, depending on performance and meeting cost goals.
"We continue to work in collaboration with the [Pentagon] and industry team to study and discuss affordability measures in an on-going effort to further reduce costs," Lockheed said. Pratt & Whitney didn't immediately respond to a request for comment. [NASDAQ]
Australia has committed its biggest defence outlay ever on an unfinished combat jet critics insist can’t fight, can’t run and can’t hide. Is the F-35 a flop?
Angst has been boiling about the F-35 Lightning II (otherwise known as the Joint Strike Fighter) since its inception. Now, five years overdue and six years away from its revised delivery date, that angst has exploded into furore.
The United States, and by virtual default all its key allies, have pinned their hopes on this single project.
In the US it’s been priced at over $1 trillion. Australia is spending around $15 billion.
Advocates insist its is the most advanced killing machine in history — a flying supercomputer pumping an unprecedented level of information into a $500,000 helmet that allows pilots to “see” through the floor of their own aircraft.
Whatever the case, the F-35 was supposed to be an affordable alternative to the far more capable F22 Raptor interceptor fighter.
Now, it’s so expensive — in fact it’s the most costly defence project in history at $1 trillion — it is being seen as “far too big to fail”.
While builder Lockheed Martin may yet succeed in rolling the aircraft off the production line, there are grave doubts in the aircraft’s ability to do the jobs demanded of it.
Critics point to what they call a fundamental flaw in its design: As a cost-savings exercise, it’s supposed to be all things to all people.
For the US Navy, it’s supposed to be an F14 Tomcat interceptor and F/A18 Hornet strike fighter combined.
For the US air force, it’s supposed to do the jobs of the F-16 strike fighter and A10 ground-attack aircraft.
For the US Marines, it’s supposed to be a replacement for their iconic “Jump Jet” Harriers.
The result, critics say, is a cascading series of compromises that has produced an aircraft inadequate to meet any of its functions. [News.com]