Decision made after discovery that stealth fighter was not compatible with existing fleet The Royal Canadian Air Force has decided it will rely on the United States, other allies and private companies for air-to-air refuelling if the government purchases the F-35 because the stealth fighters aren't compatible with Canada's current refuelling aircraft. The revelation is buried in an explosive report released last week and means the Canadian Air Force would be reliant on third parties to realize the full benefits of its F-35s - a situation opposition critics and analysts say is completely unacceptable. "I'm shocked," said Alan Williams, the former defence department military procurement chief. "At the end of the day, we want to provide our men and women in uniform the ability to do the job. And certainly eliminating that flexibility to be able to refuel when we want with our own assets is a very limiting factor." Air-to-air refuelling is considered to be of critical importance to Canada's aircraft given the country's massive size, particularly when it comes to conducting sovereignty missions in the North. F-35 manufacturer Lockheed Martin initially said the stealth fighter would be compatible with Canada's existing refuelling aircraft - a claim repeated by Defence Minister Peter MacKay. "Lockheed Martin, the manufacturer of the plane, has confirmed that the F-35 can handle different types of refuelling systems, including the one currently used on the Polaris," MacKay told Parliament on Jan. 31, 2011. Numerous defence department documents subsequently showed the F-35 was in fact incompatible with Canada's existing fleet of refuelling aircraft, but the Air Force said it was examining ways to address the problem. Now, according to accounting firm KPMG, National Defence has decided to change that plan and instead outsource air-to-air refuelling if Canada buys the stealth fighters. KPMG was recently hired to verify the government's cost estimates for the F-35. At one point it asked for clarification on the defence department's plans for refuelling the stealth fighters in mid-air." "With respect to air-to-air refuelling requirements, DND will rely on (the U.S.), coalition partners, or commercial refuelling assets to meet operational requirements," reads KPMG's final report, which was released last week. Public Works, the department overseeing the government's efforts to replace Canada's aging CF-18 fighters, would only say the government is considering all options before deciding which aircraft to buy. Williams said the decision to out-source air-to-air refuelling is not a trivial matter. "This is a core capability," he said. "Chances are our allies are there for us. But there's a big difference between having to rely on them, and taking advantage of them." NDP military procurement critic Matthew Kellway said one of the knocks on the F-35 has always been its short range and perceived lack of suitability for sovereignty patrols and air interception in a country as vast as Canada. "Twenty-one million lines of code and magically stealthy, and yet we can't gas it up," he said. "(Going) without sovereign refuelling capacity is to forgo any pretence at defence of sovereignty." It's unclear if other potential replacements for the CF-18 like Boeing's Super Hornet or the Eurofight-er Typhoon would be automatically compatible with Canada's refuelling aircraft. But the decision to outsource air-to-air refuelling for the F-35 appears to be a matter of money and, at least according to Liberal defence critic John McKay, politics. The Harper government says $9 billion is the maximum it will spend to purchase replacements for Canada's CF-18s. (The full cost of the F-35s has been pegged at $45 billion, but only $9 billion of that is for actually buying the planes. The remaining $36 billion is for development, maintenance, operating costs and disposal when the aircraft reach the end of their usefulness, expected around 2052.) Source: The Province, Lee Berthiaume
Gravity always wins!