Opinion: Backing the fleet of F-35s

Backing the fleet of F-35s

By 11330 Lt.-Gen. (Ret’d) Angus Watt, Ottawa Citizen April 19, 2011

Re: Canada’s F-35s: Engines not included, April 17.

I am a supporter of the government’s decision to purchase F-35s to replace our aging fleet of CF-18 fighter aircraft. The aircraft has encountered some developmental challenges and cost pressures need to be closely monitored, but it is far from the abject failure that many critics attempt to label it.

The aircraft will not be acquired without engines, as the Citizen’s article implied. It is simply a matter of contractual responsibility. Lockheed Martin makes planes, not engines. The engine for the F-35 will be supplied by Pratt & Whitney. The government will purchase the engines from Pratt & Whitney, just as will every F-35 customer, because that company will provide the guarantee and ongoing support for the engine. Thus for purposes of the contract with Lockheed Martin, the engines are “government furnished equipment.” However, the cost for the engines is built into the $9-billion overall acquisition budget. Thus “engines not included” may be technically correct from the narrow viewpoint of the contract with Lockheed Martin, but it is patently misleading from the viewpoint of the overall program.

I would also be cautious about comparing cost figures. The Canadian acquisition price of $75 million is for the aircraft only (and yes, it does include an engine). American cost figures tend to include other program elements like spare parts, weapons and infrastructure. This is obvious; 65 aircraft at $75 million each costs $4.9 billion total -much less than the acquisition budget. If you use the overall $9-billion acquisition budget, each Canadian F-35 would appear to cost $138 million because it incorporates all those other costs. This is much closer to the U.S. figures and those from the PBO, but the airplane has not suddenly become more expensive. It is simply a matter of which costs you directly attribute to the airplane. The key point is that the overall $9-billion acquisition budget is respected in both cases. Don’t be fooled by misleading comparisons that are not “apples to apples.”

Lt.-Gen. (Ret’d) Angus Watt, Ottawa Chief of the Air Staff (2007-2009)

2 Comments

  • Dan Farrell

    April 25, 2011 at 10:14 am

    The article by Gen Watt does not leave me any clearer about the final cost of F-35s. Any such project requires training, support, maintenance, admin and similar costs. Why should those not be included in the overall cost? I might be more receptive to the F-35 purchase if a clear statement of requirement had been provided. Essentially, the new fighter-bomber would be useful only as a first strike aircraft against a relatively sophisticated enemy. Under what circumstances is that likely? It would not be suitable for low-level support. It does not, apparently, have sufficient range for missions in the arctic without a refuelling tanker. Just how does it provide for defence of Canada’s aerospace?
    Other aircraft such as the F-18 Hornet could match the F-35 in all but the stealth category, at far lower cost; and the stealth advantage will not be held for long.
    One suspects that our military procurement chiefs are like admirals planning for a battleship replacement in an aircraft carrier era. Would not it be better to settle for a less expensive aircraft and devote money saved to development of weapons such as UAVs that might actually provide aerospace defence?

  • David Morgan (15008)

    April 25, 2011 at 1:36 pm

    Given the vast size of our country, and the fact that these aircraft are supposed to be used for Arctic sovereignty patrols, is it really wise to acquire an aircraft that has only one engine? One would think that the redundancy of a second engine would be an essential requirement.