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The F-35: Actual Cost? $148 Million. Political Cost? Priceless.

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The irony in the whole F-35 aircraft controversy is that no matter how good the strike aircraft may be, its full capacity will probably never be used by Canada.

The present CF-18 plane that it is supposed to replace was also never used to its full potential, although it shot up Libyan installations that never fired back. Before that, the CF-18 was used in Kosovo and for a few minutes in the first Gulf war.

But those weren't defensive uses of the aircraft but offensive, and to give the pilots a chance to use them in action. Cosmetic stuff, really, otherwise the aircraft would have gone through their whole life expectancy without seeing action.

Of course an effective military is a form of insurance policy, hopefully never needed.

But the monkey business over Canada committing (sort of) for the hugely expensive F-35s without competitive bids as "the only acceptable plane," stinks to high heaven.

If it's the "only acceptable plane," what's to fear from competitive bids?

Over-budgeted, over-advertised and underperforming, Auditor-General Michael Ferguson has taken aim at the whole business. He's clearly disgusted (but not surprised) that DND mislead, fibbed and withheld info from Defence Minister Peter MacKay, who's the one who should be really sore at DND. The public, too, has reason to be upset. DND always does this -- and no one ever is fired for it.

Now, apparently, decisions on the F-35 have been removed from DND and assigned to the Public Works Deparment. Does that make sense? If DND is untrustworthy, what in hell does Public Works know about strike aircraft and stealth characteristics?

How about a Treasury Board committee ruling on what's militarily acceptable and what isn't? More shame and embarrassment to DND fudgers. They brought it on themselves.

The air force loves complex strike aircrafts with state of the art technology, just as navy guys love the idea of submarines (even though no Canadian submarine has ever fired a torpedo in anger). The four second-hand subs the British persuaded us to buy in 1998, have had considerable difficulty going under water without leaking.

The 65 F-35s that we once thought we were pledged to purchase (until Associate Defence Minister Julian Fantino told the country no deal had yet been signed) were originally expected to cost $75 million each -- a record price -- but now may cost $150 million each. The cost elevator is still rising.

With the defence budget due to be progressively cut for the next few years, how can we afford the world's most expensive fighter aircraft whose full capabilites will never be needed, or even used?

The answer is that we can't afford it, without cutting some other expenditures.

Often cited is that the F-35 is needed to shadow Russian aircraft that intrude into our northern air space. There is no suggestion that the F-35s would ever shoot down a Russian plane, just watch and report to headquarters.

Most of those commenting on the merits and demerits of the F-35 haven't a clue about the plane's performance, other than what they've been told. That includes me, and the rest of media commentatiors. We rely on DND and the air force experts.

At least competitive bidding might have kept the price down, and opened the debate.

Now, if the F-35 is cancelled or downgraded, it will affect our aerospace inductry and the job market. Other countries are already re-examining their commitments for the F-35 -- a one-engine, limited-range aircraft that seems a curious choice for a coutnry with as much land mass as Canada.

According to a CBC report, if Canada does get the F-35, the lifetime costs of maintaining it are expected to reach $1.5 trillion. And that cost will rise. It doesn't leave much to spend on the army, or helicopters, or equipment to keep our troops effective wherever their next assignment may be.

But it's par for the course in Canada.

One might remember that when our troops first went to Afghanistan they had the wrong type uniforms and insufficient Kevlar vests to protect the soldiers. Maybe with Public Works taking over some DND responsibilities, there'll be more thinking ahead? Maybe, but don't count on it.