Tuesday, April 3, 2012

F-35 purchase deferred or aborted?

By Peter Jones and Philip Lagasse, Globe and Mail, April 3, 2012
Despite the hype, however, revelations that the aircraft will be seriously over budget and may not yet meet all of the minimum requirements are not, in themselves, particularly newsworthy. Few defence procurements come in on-budget or meet all requirements out of the box. This is not news, although the government’s refusal to acknowledge these realities until forced to do so is troubling.

No, the real story is that the highly unusual (to put it kindly) F-35 selection process has threatened to put the Royal Canadian Air Force in a bind. By side-stepping a mandated competition between different aircraft types two years ago, and announcing that the F-35 was the only acceptable plane, the government implied that anything short of a fifth-generation fighter is unsatisfactory.
Simply put, the Conservatives oversold the benefits and the necessity of the F-35 and never allowed a proper assessment of the alternatives. We were told that it was the only aircraft capable of meeting the RCAF’s requirements, that no other plane was even worth considering in a proper competition. (highlighting our's)
The Defence Department now faces a daunting task. The F-35 procurement is heading toward a possibly fatal combination of relentlessly rising per-unit costs (how many aircraft will we actually be able to afford?), questions about whether other countries in the F-35 consortium will go ahead, and doubts about the plane’s actual performance. Yet, the government has been adamant that this is the only fighter for Canada. Making the case for any other aircraft to replace the CF-18 will be difficult.
Indeed, therein lies the government’s challenge. If the F-35 purchase does not go ahead now, how does the Defence Department justify spending billions on another aircraft – all of which were, until recently, deemed unacceptable? If a fourth-generation aircraft was incapable of meeting Canada’s defence needs before, why should one be now? Simply saying that the budget situation has changed and that we are now going to buy a cheaper plane may make sense in economic terms, but it flies in the face of years of Conservative declarations that Canada will be left woefully unprepared to protect its sovereignty and fight alongside allies overseas.
To this observer, the phrase "oversold the benefits and the necessity of the F-35"...depicts a core "competency" of this government, ironic as that may be in the light of the train-wreck that is the truth.
They have "oversold the benefits and the necessity of their majority" from the beginning...and we are left, both in the case of the F-35, and in the performance of the government itself, with snake-oil salesmen (and certainly the over-zealous sales pitches have come mostly from male members of the government).
This quality of the government reminds one of the rancher/soldier who meets a young woman while in service, and seduces her on the promise that he has hundreds of acres of ranch where they will eventually live, should she choose him as her husband, only to find that those acres are tied into an estate held by a half-dozen siblings, to which he personally has no hope of access.
Over-selling is another form of deception. It has occurred in the process of mis-informing parliament about the truth of both the purchase price and the repair costs. It has occurred by this government's refusal to come clean on the withdrawal of other potential purchasers, and therefore the rising costs per plane, especially in the light of the information that the U.S. informed the government of the rising costs as early as 2010, and the government continued to stonewall.
It is now very hard to unspeak the words that have already flowed from the government ministers, and reverse public lack of confidence into confidence, on this file, by moving the file to Public Works, under the "oversight" of a new F-35 Secretariat...So much for a "new" approach to gaining public confidence on this purchase.

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