John Ivison: Canadians need the straight goods on F-35. First and foremost: Does it really handle like a ‘flying piano’?
April 30, 2012
Potentially as damaging as the cost over-runs are the claims made by critics like military analyst Winslow Wheeler that the F-35 is a “virtual flying piano” that lacks agility and is grounded far too often for maintenance.
The day the Auditor-General’s damning report on the F-35 fighter jets landed, the Harper government attempted to contain the damage by announcing the creation of a new “F-35 Secretariat” to oversee the process to replace Canada’s aging CF-18 fleet.
The government committed itself to “continue evaluating options” on the CF-18 replacement, but the very name of the new office suggested, in reality, Canadians could have any jet they wanted, as long as it looked like the F-35.
But it is the F-35 Secretariat no longer.
Marc Garneau, the Liberal MP, asked in Question Period if the change of name to the “New Fighter Aircraft Secretariat” was indicative of a shift in policy. He didn’t get much of an answer but government sources confirmed the name has indeed been changed, to avoid giving the impression that the outcome is pre-determined. Asked if that meant a competition for a new jet is likely, the senior Conservative said: “We haven’t closed that door.”
On first blush, it looks very much as if the government is preparing to back away from the F-35. The whole saga has taken a political toll on the Tories, as the costs for the 30-year life-cycle of the jets appear to be close to double the $16-billion they have claimed.
The F-35 took another hit this week with a scathing article – “The Jet that Ate the Pentagon” — in the highly regarded Foreign Policy magazine. It suggested the plane is “simply unaffordable, behind schedule” and a huge disappointment in terms of performance. “The F-35 is an unaffordable mediocrity, and the program will not be fixed by any combination of hardware tweaks or cost-control projects. There is only one thing to do with the F-35: Junk it. America’s air force deserves a much better aircraft and the taxpayers deserve a much cheaper one,” wrote Winslow Wheeler, a veteran military analyst.