New secretariat urges a complete restart of Canada’s F-35 buy

Canada’s Globe and Mail is reporting that a new secretariat within the Canadian government is urging a complete restart on that nation’s Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter purchase.

The recommendation comes on the heels of a Canadian Auditor General’s report that highlights problems with the purchase–which some estimates peg at $25 billion in Canadian currency.

“If the military were smart, they would do it themselves, unsolicited,” one unnamed senior official told the Globe and Mail. “There seems to be an overwhelming public appetite to ask why [the government is] asking for this capability, and to be involved in a consideration of whether we should continue.”

120410-f-zz999-655F-35eglin.jpgCanada’s purchase of the F-35 is a hugely controversial issue in Canada. Much of the debate is over the selection process–critics contend that no alternatives were seriously considered. Canadian government and military officials say they thoroughly vetted alternatives.

There is no indication as of yet that the Canadian Department of National Defence is actually going to restart the F-35 procurement process. But if the country did cancel its buy, it could have serious diplomatic fall-out for Canada’s security relationship with the US and other F-35 partner nations.

Based on previous conversations with leading Canadian defense and security experts including retired Lt Gen George McDonald, the former Canadian Forces vice-chief of staff, Robert Huebert at the University of Calgary, and Philippe Lagassé at the University of Ottawa, the real debate surrounding the F-35 is about Canada’s role in the world.

While a conventional fighter, for example the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, could replace the existing Boeing CF-18 Hornets for air sovereignty missions to defend Canada’s airspace, it wouldn’t enable the country to participate in expeditionary warfare past about 2025.

The F-35, however, would enable the country to participate in coalition warfare during major combat operations past that timeframe. This would mean that the recently reborn Royal Canadian Air Force could take part in airstrikes on the first day of a war when enemy air defenses are still at their strongest.

So the debate really comes down to what does Canada want the RCAF to do? And what does Canada want its role in the world to be?

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