Canada’s F-35s: Engines not included
Government will be required to provide powerplant for stealth fighters, documents show
By DAVID PUGLIESE, The Ottawa Citizen April 17, 2011 11:15 AM
The multi-million dollar F-35 stealth fighter that the Conservatives want to purchase comes with all the accoutrements of a high-tech aircraft — everything, that is, except an engine.
The government will be required to provide engines for the 65 planes to be delivered by U.S. manufacturer Lockheed Martin, according to newly released Defence Department documents.
The proposed F-35 purchase, estimated to cost between $14 billion and $29 billion depending on what figures are used, has been controversial. Opposition parties are calling for a review or cancellation of the program, while the Tories have made it a key part of their defence policy.
The DND documents, which outline answers to questions about the F-35, also note that the stealth fighter could be used in a secondary role for search-and-rescue.
The records, obtained through the Access to Information law by peace activist Tamara Lorincz, are from a series of meetings last fall when defence bureaucrats and military officers toured the country to promote the F-35 deal.
“Engines are provided as gov’t furnished equipment,” noted the documents.
The term “government furnished equipment” signifies that the engines are being provided separately by Canada.
It is unclear how much extra the engines will cost or whether there would be additional costs for installing the power plants into the fighters.
In an e-mail late Friday, DND stated that Canada is purchasing the least costly variant of the F-35.
But DND did not provide an explanation about why the government is required to provide the engines.
It also did not provide any details on the price tag of the engines or the cost to install them.
But the e-mail suggested the cost of the engines is included in the overall price.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper has labelled the F-35 as a good deal for Canada and notes that the aircraft will cost around $75 million per plane.
The Conservatives say the entire purchase will cost around $14 billion but a report from Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page puts the number at $29 billion.
The Government Accountability Office, the U.S government’s equivalent of the auditor general, has also warned about serious ongoing problems with the aircraft and rising costs. Mike Sullivan, a senior official with the Government Accountability Office, estimates that the F-35 model that Canada is buying will cost between $110 to $115 million.
U.S. defence specialist Winslow Wheeler, who has also raised concerns about the F-35, has warned that the extra cost of an engine could boost the price of an aircraft for Canada to around $148 million.
“If Canada’s government can get an F-35 for the mid-70 million dollars per airplane, well they should sign a contract right now and get it delivered,” said Wheeler, an analyst with the Center for Defense Information in Washington. “Because I can promise you nobody on this earth will ever get a flying F-35 for $75 million per copy. It’s pure fantasy.”
But former chief of the defence staff, retired Gen. Paul Manson, a strong supporter of the F-35 and a former chairman of Lockheed Martin Canada, has challenged Wheeler’s viewpoints in a letter to the Citizen. According to Manson, the F-35 project is progressing well and the plane is the right one for Canada. He said Wheeler lacks credibility because he is associated with a “left-wing” organization in Washington.
Wheeler, who was asked to testify last year before a Commons committee, has spent the last 30 years working on defence issues for Republican and Democratic politicians. He was an analyst for nine years with the Government Accountability Office, working on studies concerning defence procurement and military aircraft.
The DND records highlight the F-35’s capabilities, pointing out that it will be easy to fly and the purchase will provide contracts for Canadian aerospace companies.
During the tour, the issue of whether the F-35 could contribute to search and rescue (SAR) missions also came up. “Fighter aircraft (are) not a primary SAR asset, but can play a secondary role — and would,” the documents state.
But Steve Staples, a vocal critic of the F-35 purchase, calls that claim ludicrous.
He said the billions of dollars earmarked for the fighter jets have helped delay other more important projects such as the air force’s much-delayed plan to buy fixed wing search and rescue planes.
“The concern here is that the F-35 eats everybody’s else’s lunch and there will be no money left,” said Staples, president of the Rideau Institute. “The search and rescue aircraft are a casualty, so instead we’ll get some supersonic stealth fighter trying to find hikers lost in the woods.”
According to the DND presentations from the documents, the first F-35 will be delivered to Canada in 2016. The final delivery will take place in 2022.
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Sunday, April 17, 2011
Posted by Brent Fullard at 12:20 PM