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Elizabeth May


F-35s: It's Not that They are Expensive. It's that They are Useless.

Posted: 04/09/2012 6:29 am

In July 2010, I wrote a column for my local paper, Island Tides, on the government's decision to buy 65 F-35 fighter jets. Now that the Auditor General has confirmed what everyone knew -- that the planes were wildly over budget and that we were being misled (lied to?) at every turn -- I decided to go back and look at my column.

On the costs I wrote:

"Like many military contracts in the US, the costs of the F-35 have spiralled and are way over budget. In March 2010, U.S. Defence Secretary Robert Gates told the Congress that it was 'unacceptable' that the F-35 is 50 per cent over-budget. Costs of developing the new fighter jets is approaching $300 billion. With bureaucratic baffle-gab that takes your breath away, the Pentagon critique of the fighter jet programme concluded: 'affordability is no longer embraced as a core pillar.'"

On the question of whether the F35s met Canadian defence needs:

"Peter MacKay is enthused about the jets. Lockheed Martin's F-35 jets are exciting new toys. They are so exciting that our government did not hold an open contracting process. We only wanted these planes. They can take off and land on aircraft carriers. They have stealth coating. They can engage in air-to-air combat and rely on mid-air re-fueling...We don't have aircraft carriers. We have no plausible security scenario in which air-to-air combat is anticipated. (The Battle of Britain was a long time ago.) And stealth coating? Are we planning a surprise invasion?

True, our aging CF-18s need to be replaced. Our large geography has always led to a priority choice for two-engine planes, so if a plane is in a remote spot and loses an engine, the pilot can get to a safe place to land. The F-35s are single engine planes. Asked what will happen if the engine fails, Peter MacKay replied 'it won't.' We need planes for search and rescue. The F-35 is not appropriate for search and rescue."

My column concluded:

So, it seems Canada is spending money we don't have for planes we don't need. And it seems we are doing this to hold our place in some macho military solidarity with the Pentagon. The opportunity costs of $16 billion for fighter jets is enormous -- in lost opportunities to reduce poverty, create jobs, protect health care and fight climate change. None of this has been debated or discussed in the House. And it was not in the 2010 budget. I will work with other parties to reverse this sale and direct priorities to those Canadians value.

So, I was still using the Harper $16 billion estimate. But when the Parliamentary Budget Officer, Kevin Page, explained that those costs were off by about $10 billion or so in a March 2011 report, I believed him. Stephen Harper questioned him.

The point is that not even willful blindness of the most acute variety can be pleaded by the prime minister in his attack on Page. If I knew the planes were being chosen without criteria or a proper open bidding process, that the whole project was a boondoggle and that Canada was going to be spending $25 billion on planes we did not need, so too did everyone else.

The auditor general's report should be required reading for every voter who thought Stephen Harper had the qualities of a wise manager of the public purse.

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  • F-35 Joint Strike Fighter

    FIIn this file photo taken on July 14, 2011 and released by U.S. Air Force, a USAF F-35 Lightning II joint strike fighter (JSF) aircraft soars over Destin, Fla., before landing at its new home at Eglin Air Force Base. Japan selected the Lockheed Martin F-35 stealth fighter Tuesday, Dec. 20, 2011, to replace aging jets in its air force and bolster its defense capability amid regional uncertainty. (AP Photo/U.S. Air Force, Staff Sgt. Joely Santiago)

  • F-35 Joint Strike Fighter

    A F-35 Lightning II sits on stage during the United Kingdom F-35 Lightning II delivery ceremony on July 19, 2012 at Lockheed Martin Corporation in Fort Worth, Texas. The ceremony marked the first international delivery of an F-35 Joint Strike Fighter to a partner nation. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

  • F-35 Joint Strike Fighter

    (Photo by Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images)

  • F-35 Joint Strike Fighter

    Plane models stand outside the Lockheed Martin Corporation during the United Kingdom F-35 Lightning II Delivery Ceremony on July 19, 2012 in Fort Worth, Texas. The ceremony marked the first international delivery of an F-35 Joint Strike Fighter to a partner nation. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

  • F-35 Joint Strike Fighter

    The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter jet sits in front the entrance of the Asian Aerospace 2004 show in Singapore 24 February 2004. The Asia Pacific offers one of the world's strongest prospects for defence-related spending, US aerospace giant Lockheed Martin said Tuesday as it expressed confidence in remaining a major supplier to the region's governments (AFP PHOTO/ROSLAN RAHMAN)

  • F-35 Joint Strike Fighter


  • F-35 Joint Strike Fighter

    A Lockheed Martin's F-35 Lighning II fighter jet sits on the tarmac for static display at the Singapore Airshow in Singapore on February 12, 2012. Boeing's much-delayed 787 Dreamliner is set to star at the Singapore Airshow this week where companies touting private jets and defence hardware to the Asian market will also be out in force. (ROSLAN RAHMAN/AFP/Getty Images)

  • F-35 Joint Strike Fighter

    (ROSLAN RAHMAN/AFP/Getty Images)

  • F35 JSF Take Off

  • F-35A Flight with External Stores

    On Feb. 16, 2012, the first external weapons test mission was flown by an F-35A conventional takeoff and landing (CTOL) aircraft at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. The F-35A is designed to carry up to 18000 pounds on 10 weapon stations featuring four weapon stations inside two weapon bays, for maximum stealth capability, and an additional three weapon stations on each wing.

  • F-35 Joint Strike Fighter

    IN AIR, NAVAL AIR STATION PATUXENT RIVER, MD - FEBRUARY 11: (EDITORS NOTE: Image has been received by U.S. Military prior to transmission) In this image released by the U.S. Navy courtesy of Lockheed Martin, the U.S. Navy variant of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the F-35C, conducts a test flight February 11, 2011 over the Chesapeake Bay. Lt. Cmdr. Eric 'Magic' Buus flew the F-35C for two hours, checking instruments that will measure structural loads on the airframe during flight maneuvers. The F-35C is distinct from the F-35A and F-35B variants with larger wing surfaces and reinforced landing gear for greater control when operating in the demanding carrier take-off and landing environment. (Photo by U.S. Navy photo courtesy Lockheed Martin via Getty Images)

  • F-35 First Ship Landing

    Courtesy: NAVAIR/JSF Program/Lockheed Martin

  • F35 Hovering

  • F-35 Flight Test Highlights

    Highlights of F-35 flight testing at NAS Patuxent River, Md., NAS Fort Worth Joint Reserve Base, and Edwards AFB, Calif.

  • F-35 Performs First Night Flight

    The first night flight in the history of the Lockheed Martin F-35 program was completed on Jan. 19, 2012 in the skies above Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. Piloted by Lockheed Martin Test Pilot Mark Ward, AF-6, an F-35A conventional takeoff and landing (CTOL) variant, launched at 5:05 pm PST and landed after sunset at 6:22 pm

  • F-35 Airstart Testing

    An F-35 test pilot talks about airstart testing at Edwards AFB, Calif., in early 2012.

  • F35 Air Show