CF-18, 20-year colors
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Canada’s 138 “CF-18s” were delivered between 1982-1988, but accidents and retirements have reduced the fleet to about 103, with only 79 upgraded F/A-18 AM/BM Hornets still operational. The CF-18s are expected to be phased out between 2017 – 2023. Maintenance and upgrades will remain necessary until then, and possibly beyond.
Canada has been an active Tier 3 partner in the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program, participating in both the Concept Demonstration Phase ($10 million) and the System Development and Demonstration Phase ($150 million). This USD $160 million has included funding from both the Department of National Defence, and from Technology Partnerships Canada (TPC). In the Production, Sustainment and Follow-on Development Phase of the F-35 program, it is estimated that Canada’s contribution will exceed C$ 550 million (about the same in USD) over 44 years. As of September 2011, the government had disbursed about C$ 335 million toward participation in the JSF Program, and related support to Canadian industry.
Now, 65 new CF-35As are Canada’s official choice to replace its Hornets – and estimates of the cost range from $17 billion to $45.8 billion. This article covers efforts to keep existing CF-18s fit for service, as well as Canada’s replacement fighter buy. As timelines continue to slip, these 2 programs have become more interdependent – and the F-35′s selection less certain.
Canada and the F-35
Timelines: The F-35′s, and Canada’s
Here’s the timeline as it has unfolded so far, along with Canada’s plans out to 2050. The timeline will change, but it’s unlikely to move F-35 fielding up to an earlier date. That’s a problem, because the CF-18s have a limited number of hours for safe flight, and they will reach those limits soon. Any delays to the F-35s will either raise costs again by forcing a major refurbishment of Canada’s CF-18s, or leave Canada with serious gaps in its fighter fleet.
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From Canada’s OAG, 2012
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F-35: Canadian Industrial Partners
The F-35 has been designed on 3 levels: operational, industrial, and political. The tiered partnership model created initial commitments by member governments, and a sub-contracting model that spread industrial benefits among committed partners was designed to create constituencies that would lobby for the F-35′s selection and production.
That approach has generally worked. It isn’t a coincidence that these industrial benefits have been the main defense used by Canadian governments whenever the F-35 purchase has been questioned, even though any other winner would also have to commit to a similar sort of arrangement. Existing recipients of public money will always fight harder, because the beneficiaries of any switch are only potential winners, who haven’t made big commitments that would be painful to undo. This political engineering approach saved the Dutch F-35 buy in the face of determined political opposition, even though the plane’s cost is forcing them to cut their planned fighter fleet by almost 2/3. Canada seems headed for a similar fate, and their industrial participants include:
According to the government’s Industry Canada, contracts as of summer 2013 totaled C$ 503 million, while total future contracts are estimated at C$ 9.429 billion: C$ 8.261 billion if existing contracts are extended over the scheduled number of fighters, plus another C$ 1.168 billion in identified production & service opportunities.
Given the sharp order cuts we’re seeing in even Tier 2 partners like Britain and the Netherlands, and the USA’s long-term fiscal situation, Lockheed Martin might be lucky to produce half of the expected number of F-35s. Lockheed Martin would argue that one can only publish official figures using official estimates, and they’d have a point, but an honest debate can’t be blind to reality. This is a dilemma for all F-35 partners, and it needs to be kept in mind when reading estimates of the program’s long-term industrial value.
A Word on Stealth
The Stealthy Mosquito
F-35A & F-22A
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Military discussion in Canada has been almost non-existent, beyond hand-waving and the grossest generalizations. The strategic requirements for new fighters, and whether the choices available can do those jobs at acceptable cost, doesn’t much concern Canada’s governing class. Such references as have been made generally revolve around the need for stealth, without explaining the concept.
The thing to remember is that stealth isn’t invisibility, just a shorter detection distance. To use a very simplified and very Canadian analogy, a mosquito will have to be a lot closer to you before you’ll see it, compared to a sparrow. Hence all those “surprise” bites, as they exploit the gaps in your perception and get in close enough to strike. They aren’t invisible, though you might swear otherwise at times. On the other hand, if you use other parts of the spectrum by employing your ears, even a tiny mosquito can be detected at uncomfortably long distances in a quiet room.
That’s just the beginning of your problem, of course. Awareness must be followed by pinpointing and tracking its location, and then it must come within your killing range.
It’s basically the same sequence for enemy systems. A fighter can survive by defeating any one link in the detection – tracking – reach – kill chain. Stealth complicates all 3 areas, shortening detection ranges, making tracking more difficult, and frustrating or weakening final stage radar guided missile locks.
Other manufacturers are correct when they respond that modern jets without the stealth marketing have much better radar cross sections that Canada’s existing CF-18s. Even so, the CF-35′s stealth will be a step beyond other fighters on offer to Canada, albeit a step below the USA’s F-22A Raptors and F-35s. The thing is, modern fighters, missiles, and radars have been making their own parallel improvements over the last decade. To the point where even the F-35′s ability to prevail against high-end enemy air defense systems, and against fighters fielded after 2030, is a matter of controversy.
Design Choices: America vs. Europe
Eurofighter & Meteor
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The Americans had better hope that stealth continues to work in practice. They’ve placed their entire future fighter bet on stealth, and are paying the accompanying financial and operational costs.
The Europeans, in contrast, looked askance at the added construction and maintenance costs of stealth, and at the huge expense of aerodynamic changes once a stealth design is set. They opted instead for radar cross-section reduction that stopped short of full stealth, plus high kinematic performance. Advanced electronic warfare and defensive systems integrated into the planes, non-standard sensors like Infra-Red Search & Track, and long-reach weapons like the Meteor air-to-air missile and stealthy cruise missiles, would all improve protection in other ways.
Who is right?
The answer to this question is very consequential to Canada, but it’s hard to say at this point, because the respective approaches haven’t been fully tested against top-end enemy systems. American stealth worked very well against Iraq, twice. Modern European fighters were more than sufficient over Libya in 2011, however; and the stealthless Israelis sliced through dense Syrian air defenses in 2007, using planning, jammming, and well-chosen weapons to destroy a nuclear reactor.
If stealth remains fully or mostly relevant, even as a matter of faith rather than proof, Europe’s high-end jets will be unable to compete with American stealth fighters. Worse, the F-35′s full-rate production costs beyond 2020 would make it lethal in export competitions.
On the other hand, if jamming keeps pace, or if stealth’s advantages can be beaten or watered down, the European approach can create cheaper planes with better aerodynamic performance.
Changing the Game?
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Right now, modern ground radars are lengthening the ranges at which stealth aircraft can be detected, and AESA fighter radars are getting better. Those trends will continue, but neither will invalidate stealth on its own. With that said, there are at least 2 key technologies that could significantly change stealth design’s cost:benefit ratio.
Infrared Search & Track (IRST) systems on planes like the Eurofighter and Rafale, on the F-35 itself, and on most Russian-designed fighters, already offers a potential alternative to radar in aerial engagements. The B-2 picture above was taken by a Eurofighter’s PIRATE IRST system, and used in a presentation to the Norwegian government. The mechanics of fuel circulation in the F-35 are intended to make heat-based lock-ons harder to achieve, and there are pilot-activated additives that can even frustrate locks from tailpipe exhaust, but processors will continue to improve, and so will infrared detection arrays. IRST will remain a potent and improving solution for detection and location, and the mere friction of an airplane cutting through the atmosphere at high speed is very hard to hide completely.
The greatest long-term threat to stealth is probably a combination of “passive” radars that collect input from wider slices of the spectrum, paired with ever-expanding processing power that can separate anomalies from the clutter by collating multiple input types, and with networked analysis that collates multiple sensor systems. Early research and tests have begun in this area, courtesy of firms like Saab and EADS.
Does Canada Have a Plan B?
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At present, it does not. One could even say that it took until 2013 for the government to offer a Plan A.
There’s an argument that Canada has no strategic need for a fighter in the F-35′s class, and might be better off spending the same amount of money on the same number of cheaper 4+ generation fighters, plus assets like MQ-9 UAVs that would deploy abroad with its troops, maritime patrol aircraft to improve surveillance, etc. To date, however, Canada’s military, governments, and media have all diligently avoided a strategic discussion that could separate, evaluate, and prioritize spending options. Instead, the debate has revolved around economic concerns, and the military’s wants.
A rigid and secretive procurement system has only exacerbated these tendencies. In the wake of the 20+ year rolling fiasco of its Maritime Helicopter Program competition, multi-billion dollar, single-source buys have characterized almost all Canadian defense procurements over the last 5-7 years. Canada’s choice of the F-35 has been no different, and the only real debate has taken place in the realm of federal elected politics. Opposition critics have cited significant cost uncertainties for the F-35, the shift toward UAVs, and the availability of cheaper aircraft on the global market as reasons to avoid a sole-source purchase. In its place, they’ve alternated between favoring an open fighter competition with public criteria, and making noises about avoiding a fighter buy altogether.
A 2011 election seemed likely to decide the issue, and the F-35 became a campaign topic. The results were indeed decisive, as the governing Conservative Party finally won its long-sought majority.
F-35A: open doors
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That result leaves the F-35 with a number of elements in its favor.
One is the structure of the Canadian Parliamentary system, in which a majority government has no meaningful checks and balances. If the current majority Conservative Party government wants a plane, it can force the sale through, easily. The Conservatives in particular will bear little political cost for doing so, because they have become the only party in the country with serious security credentials. The national security constituency largely lives within that party, and will be happy that something is being done after decades of neglect. The rest of the population isn’t overly interested. The Liberal Party found this out to their sorrow when they tried to make the F-35 an election issue in 2011, and watched the attempt fizzle. They had a solid case, but the messenger had no credibility with people who were interested in the issue.
Another point in the F-35′s favor is its industrial program. It’s working as intended, by creating industrial constituencies with a strong interest in keeping the purchase. The power of that constituency is partly offset by the fact that Boeing, Canada’s largest aerospace player, is on the other side of the dispute. But only partly. Organizations billing actual dollars will always fight harder that those who might benefit at some future date. Which is why the F-35′s industrial benefits are the current focus of the government’s F-35 defense.
A third point in the Lightning’s favor is the commitment of senior DND members, who have gone public with a very absolute commitment. Never mind the fact that this commitment seems to mask some shoddy work underneath. In that circumstance, there’s little alternative to a no-compromise stonewall defense, until and unless senior leadership at DND changes.
Average flyaway cost estimates
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Barring a reversal in the next elections, therefore, only a large external shock can change Canada’s commitment to the F-35A. Unfortunately, the F-35 program is busy providing that, as costs continue to rise, and major partner countries like the USA, Britain and Italy move to delay or cut their buys. Those moves will keep the plane at lower rates of production for a longer period of time, which makes each plane more expensive.
Unfortunately, Canada wants to begin replacing its CF-18s by 2017. Which means that it needs to place an initial order by 2014. The net effect is a fighter whose purchase costs are uncertain, but are clearly set to stay very high in the near term. Worse, at the time of purchase, the operating and maintenance outlays that comprise 2/3 of total lifecycle costs will be extremely vague.
The Harper government’s response has been to insist that the procurement budget is C$ 9 billion, period, and higher prices will just mean fewer planes bought. At some point, however, a low enough number of planes bought makes it impossible for them to cover their assigned missions. Canada’s air force is already close to that margin in asking for just 65 aircraft, in order to cover the 2nd largest country in the world and participate in international missions.
Politically, a “wait and see” strategy makes a lot of sense under these circumstances. Which is exactly what we’re seeing. Statements by ministers like Julian Fantino are telegraphing that approach, without changing Canada’s underlying commitment. Perhaps some sort of “group buy” approach by the partners will bring purchase costs down, or program news may improve. If so, the purchase goes forward easily.
If the math continues to look grim, on the other hand, the difficult decisions can always be made later. The government’s shift of program leadership to the Public Works ministry, following a scathing 2012 auditor’s report, makes backtracking easier. The 1st real indication of cracks in the facade didn’t come until November 2012, however, when the government backed away from DND’s original tailored-for-F-35 fighter requirements.
What If… Potential Competitors
EA-18G & F/A-18F
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The F-35 offers Canada the best stealth, the most advanced array of on-board sensors, and the best “user interface” for presenting all that information to its pilots. Strategy has been absent from all Canadian discussions, so if Canada is forced away from its commitment to the F-35, it’s going to be a decision driven by costs. Handicapping for any prospective replacement needs to reflect that.
The strongest competitor would be Boeing, with its twin-engine F/A-18E/F Super Hornet family. Its F-15E Strike Eagle family is arguably a far better fit for Canada’s military needs, but the Super Hornet is significantly cheaper at about USD$ 60 million flyaway cost, and offers perceived continuity with the existing CF-18 fleet. A Super Hornet buy also offers long-term commonality with the US Navy, ensuring that upgrades and improvements will be financed outside of Canada.
Australia also flies the Super Hornet, and a 3rd option would be for Canada to take a leaf from their playbook, buying a mix of Super Hornets and F-35As. Australia is about to take the next step in their approach, and fit out 12-24 RAAF Super Hornets as EA-18G Growler electronic attack aircraft. That capability is unique to the Super Hornet platform, and it will always be in demand among international coalition partners. Fortunately, Canada is one of just 3-4 countries that could get EA-18G export clearance from the USA.
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Canada’s large and remote territories have traditionally pushed their air force toward twin-engine fighters, and the Europeans offer a pair of advanced options. Of the two, EADS/BAE’s Eurofighter Typhoon has far better odds, because it’s compatible with the American weapons that Canada’s air force currently stockpiles, and is used by a number of NATO countries who will help to modernize it over time. The cockpit’s sensor fusion and voice commands got high marks from Canadian evaluators, and Libyan operations demonstrated their ability to supercruise at Mach 1.2 with air-to-air weapons mounted. On the industrial front, Eurofighter’s connections with firms like Airbus and Thales offer it a good starting point to fulfill industrial offset requirements.
The Eurofighter’s flip side includes a cost that’s at or above current totals for the F-35A. It also has a very limited set of integrated weapons, with significant gaps in key areas like suppression of enemy air defenses and naval attack. Fortunately for Eurofighter, Canada’s arsenal is pretty basic, but the cost issue won’t go away as easily. Based on sales to date, Eurofighter costs seem be comfortably above USD$ 100 million. That will make it difficult for them to position themselves as a better deal than Canada’s existing F-35 commitment.
Rafale with MICA
missiles, Reco-NG pod
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Dassault’s Rafale is a capable, combat-proven multi-role plane, but it comes with a number of problems from Canada’s point of view. Industrial presence and offsets may prove to be a challenge for Dassault, and the plane has no confirmed export sales yet, despite promising signals from India, and the Middle East. Unless that promise turns into orders by the time Canada needs to make a decision, long-term modernization costs must also be a serious concern for the Rafale.
Then, there’s the question of absolute purchase cost. The Rafale was judged to be cheaper than the Eurofighter by India’s evaluators, but weapon incompatibilities mean that Canada would need either new stocks of missiles, or an expensive integration program. The combined purchase cost would be unlikely to beat the Eurofighter, let alone the F-35.
JAS-39 Gripen Demo
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Saab’s JAS-39 Gripen could certainly beat the F-35 on price. It’s compatible with Canada’s existing weapons, has the requisite cold-weather pedigree, can be bought for around $60 million, and is built for very low maintenance costs compared to competitors like Eurofighter. It’s a single-engine fighter, like the F-35, but offsets that slightly with an exceptional reliability record in service. Saab’s undeveloped industrial presence in Canada will be a challenge, but using the same GE F414 engine as the Super Hornet helps, and their international record for industrial offset programs is good. The plane is fully NATO-compatible, and earlier model JAS-39C/D Gripens already serve with NATO countries Hungary and the Czech Republic.
The Gripen’s problem is that its JAS-39E/F models won’t be available in numbers until 2023 or so, which is too late for Canada. The Swiss and Brazilians are solving a similar problem by getting leased JAS-39C/D aircraft on very attractive terms, until their more advanced JAS-39Es arrive. Sweden has cut its own active fleet size quite sharply, so there may be enough Gripens in storage to meet Canada’s needs. If not, a life extension program similar to the US Navy’s Hornet SLEP plans could keep 65 CF-18s flying for another 5 years, at a cost of about $1 billion. If the F-35′s schedule continues to slip, that may be necessary anyway.
There are reports that Saab pulled out of the competition in June 2013. Saab’s issue, if it gets an opening, is how to compete with a Super Hornet option whose production volume gives it a similar price, plus twin engines, long-term modernization assurance, local allied and expeditionary commonality, and lobbying from Canada’s biggest aerospace firm?
Contracts and Key Events
CF-18 & VVS MiG-29
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April 13/14: NFPS done. The Harper government has accepted the “options analysis” report from its National Fighter Procurement Secretariat (NFPS) panel, after more than 18 months. As noted earlier (q.v. April 6/14), Canada won’t be able to order F-35s until 2015, and probably won’t do so until after the 2015 elections, if they place any orders at all. Sources: Postmedia News, “F-35 decision back in government’s court as air force completes major study”.
April 11/14: Stealth risks. The December 2012 report concerning Canada’s F-35 buy had a lot of cuts, including passages that highlighted ongoing problems with the program.
“But the Citizen has obtained more than a dozen earlier drafts of the report showing defence officials had originally laid out many of the issues surrounding the F-35′s development, and their potential impact on Canada [only to have them removed later].”
Issues that were removed from the Canadian report included fuel consumption that’s 26% higher than the CF-18s, problems with the Helmet-Mounted Display that have been cited in multiple US GAO and US DOT&E publications, and serious software delays involving the fighter’s 8+ million lines of code. That last item was the subject of a March 2014 report from the US GAO. Canada.com, “Final report on F-35 dropped references to fuel, IT problems”.
April 7/14: CF-18 Engines. Magellan Aerospace has been responsible for F404 engine maintenance & repairs for over 30 years, and that isn’t changing. Their latest contract is a C$ 55 million, 1-year award with an option for an additional year. Sources: Magellan Aerospace, “Magellan Aerospace Awarded Engine Maintenance Contract for CF-188 F404″.
April 6/14: Stall. Canada’s “buy profile” for the F-35 has been moved from 2017 to 2018, which means there won’t be a decision before the 2015 elections. That’s a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it gives the Conservative Party plausible deniability to say that it hasn’t made any decisions, which will keep the F-35 from becoming an issue again. On the other hand, the process itself has so alienated the other parties that unless the Conservatives win a majority, the F-35 buy will probably be canceled. Sources: Defense News, “Canada: No F-35 Buys Before 2018″.
Jan 22/14: Rafale. Dassault SVP of NATO affairs Yves Robins is quoted as saying that they’re offering Canada unrestricted transfers of technology if it picks the Rafale, including software source codes for servicing the planes. That’s something Canada won’t get with the F-35, and it’s being touted as a long-term cost savings that will let Canadian firms do more of the required maintenance. They’re also pushing the government to declare a competition.
CBC goes on to show that they don’t really grasp the issues, asking about the Rafale’s ability to operate alongside the USAF. France replies that this worked over Libya, but that isn’t the real question. The question is whether Canada could use its American weapons with the Rafale, without having to buy new weapons or conduct expensive integration and testing programs. In most cases, the answer is no. Sources: CBC News, “Dassault Aviation ramps up CF-18 replacement pitch”.
Jan 15/14: DND’s former assistant deputy minister for procurement, Alan Williams, explains why he thinks the entire review is a sham. The government hasn’t released its requirements for the fighter buy, and hasn’t solicited the full cost and performance data that would be required for an informed comparison. Williams is probably correct in his conclusion, but full price data would only come about as a result of an RFP – which is to say, after a competition is declared. Sources: Embassy magazine, “Feds haven’t changed perspective on F-35: Williams”.
Jan 2/14: Paperwork in. According to documents posted on a federal website on Thursday, the Canadian Forces have already prepared draft reports to the “National Fighter Procurement secretariat” on the price, the technical capabilities and the strategic advantages of the 4 fighter jets considered (F-35A, Eurofighter, Rafale, Super Hornets). Actually, the price isn’t included, except as a rough order of magnitude. That information wasn’t forthcoming from all manufacturers, and even Boeing would likely be quoting an Advanced Super Hornet model that isn’t being bought under its current multi-year Navy contract. A competition would be necessary in order to really know, and the key question from the start has been whether the Conservative government has ever had any genuine interest in a competition.
The RCAF is also reportedly finishing up its “Integrated Mission Risk Assessment,” though the quality of their work has been less than stellar in the past. Source: The Globe and Mail, “Military’s fighter-jet reports to put ball in Ottawa’s court on F-35s”.
EA-18G: key systems
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Dec 10/13: Industrial. The federal government’s Industry Canada department releases a report detailing Canadian contracts to date from the F-35 program, explaining their calculation approach, and estimating future opportunities.
Contracts to date as of summer 2013 amount to C$ 503 million, while total future contracts are estimated at C$ 9.429 billion: 8.261 billion if existing contracts are extended over the scheduled number of fighters (a very dubious proposition, based on order cuts to date), plus another 1.168 billion in identified production & service opportunities. Sources: Canada IC, “Canadian Industrial Participation in the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Program”.
June 4/13: This headline from the [Parliament] Hill Times sums it all up, which is good, because the rest is subscription-only: “Prime Minister Harper, Cabinet to decide on F-35 fighter jets without advice from Public Works Procurement Secretariat, say Public Works officials.”
Saab’s decision looks very rational if this is true. Hill Times.
May 31/13: No Saab. “Senior government officials” confirm to Quebecor’s QMI news agency that Saab has decided not to participate in Public Works Canada’s market analysis phase.
That doesn’t keep Saab from entering a competitive process later, if there is one. Saab has told QMI that they will re-evaluate the decision once there’s a clear way forward in Canada. QMI, via Sun News.
April 28/13: Expected losses. Canada’s Postmedia News reports:
“In December 2011, the Defence Department’s research arm, Defence Research and Development Canada, published a report in which it said “that the probability of having 63 or more (F-35s) remaining at this time (when the last one is delivered) is approximately 54 per cent.”
Canada plans to order 65 F-35As, for delivery from 2017-2022. Their expectation is 7-11 destroyed aircraft over the fleet’s expected 42-year lifespan, with losses fitting the standard fighter pattern and being heavier in the early years. So they’re claculating a 46% chance that 2 or more F-35As are crashed or lost in the first 6 years. Not unusual, or unreasonable.
Where the math becomes more questionable is the expectation that Canada can order 65 F-35As plus accompanying spares, training equipment, etc. with its budgeted funds, while placing orders in the program’s early production years from 2014-2020.
March 3/13: RFI. Canada’s issues its official RFI/ “Industry Engagement Request”:
“Five identified companies with aircraft in production—The Boeing Company, Dassault Aviation, EADS Eurofighter, Lockheed Martin and Saab Group—were previously sent a draft of the questionnaire on January 25, 2013, for comment. The National Fighter Procurement Secretariat received input from all five companies and their feedback is reflected in the final questionnaire, which the companies are being asked to complete within six weeks. A second questionnaire to obtain information on costs will be sent in draft form to the five companies for comment at a later date.”
See: Release | Final Industry Engagement Request: Capability, Production and Supportability Information Questionnaire.
Feb 27/13: Lifetime costs. Media traction for the Super Hornet, as Boeing has an opportunity to publicly tout their Super Hornet in a CBC TV report, which feature Boeing’s (Canadian) lead Super Hornet test pilot. The report also brings sustainment costs into Canada’s public debate for the first time, claiming $23 billion in lifetime savings from a Super Hornet buy:
“[Half] sounded too good to be true – so CBC News dug into Boeing’s figures to see how credible they are. According to the GAO, the Super Hornet actually costs the U.S. Navy $15,346 an hour to fly. It sounds like a lot – until you see that the U.S. Air Force’s official “target” for operating the F-35 is $31,900 an hour. The GAO says it’s a little more – closer to $32,500. CBC also asked Lockheed Martin to say if it had any quarrel with these numbers – and it did not…. Super Hornets, which Boeing says are 25 per cent cheaper to run than Canada’s “legacy” CF-18s.”
At this late point in the CF-18′s life, that’s certainly possible. At Lockheed Martin, they won’t publicly argue with the GAO, but they’re hopeful that its estimate will drop as the jet gains experience. At the same time, F-35 program manager Lt. Gen Bogdan has publicly pegged F-35 support projections as “just too high”, and vowed to bring them down.
With that said, the math using KPMG’s F-35 estimate as a starting point, and the GAO’s figures as the relative baselines, is that a Super Hornet buy might save Canada around $19.53 billion in ownership costs to 2042 ($37 – 17.47 billion operations). It will actually be less than that, because upgrades should be assumed to factor in at the same cost. So let’s say $15 billion. CBC also mistakenly assumes that an F/A-18E/F purchase price of around $60 million would also save half of the F-35 program’s $9 billion maximum purchase price, but it wouldn’t. Rather, it would allow Canada to buy all 65 fighters that the RCAF says are the minimum required, including 12 EA-18G electronic attack aircraft, instead of buying fewer than 65 F-35As. Of course, even $15 billion is a large enough figure to make a dent in the public debate. CBC article | CBC video: The Super Hornet.
Feb 14/13: More estimates. Canada’s government orders another cost estimate connected to their fighter replacement program:
“In December 2012, KPMG presented the Next Generation Fighter Capability: Life Cycle Cost Framework to the National Fighter Procurement Secretariat—a life-cycle cost framework for the F-35 program. The purpose of this new review is to ensure that the framework is appropriately applied by National Defence and that the cost estimates in the upcoming 2013 Annual Update are sound…. The notice of proposed procurement about the review is posted on the Government of Canada’s tendering system hosted on MERX. The contract is expected to be awarded in the coming weeks.”
Feb 13/13: Library of Parliament Report. Canada’s Library of Parliament issues “Estimating the Cost of Replacing Canada’s Fighter Jets,” which chronicles the various cost estimates submitted to Parliament and in major published reports. One interesting change is noted by The Globe and Mail:
“The amount National Defence has set aside for weapons has been cut to just $52-million for the estimated 30-year operational life of the jets, compared with estimates in two previous reports of $270-million and $300-million.”
The key driver is a December 2012 Public Works report that said existing weapons in Canadian stocks wouldn’t be adequate over the fighter’s full 40-year life cycle. Which is reasonable. Compatibility with American weapons saves money in the near-term, but doesn’t change the need to buy items over the long term. Paveway laser-guided bombs last a long time, but existing AIM-120 missiles will need upgrades at the very least, and new weapons will become necessary over the next 40 years. Hence the statement that “over the life cycle of the replacement fleet, the acquisition of newer weapons will be considered and funded as separate projects.”
So, on the one hand it’s reasonable. On the other hand, weapons are a reasonable part of a fighter fleet’s cost, and the sudden change in terms is an obvious way to lower the published cost by a quarter billion dollars. Sources: Library of Parliament, Estimating the Cost of Replacing Canada’s Fighter Jets”, Globe and Mail, “National Defence to buy fewer bombs if F-35 selected as new air force fighter”.
Feb 12/13: Whitewashed report? Comparing a Nov 1/12 copy of the draft Parliamentary Public Accounts committee report with the final November 2013 product shows the removal of important information that was shared during Spring 2011 hearings. Opposition members are incensed.
CP chronicles omissions including references to the F-35′s selection without competition, a caveat that the price tag per aircraft could almost double from the claimed USD $75 million to $138 million, and passages critical of the F-35′s industrial benefits program. More explosively, it dropped Auditor General Michael Ferguson’s testimony that the Conservative Party government had seen the full cost of the plan, as opposed to the final report that blamed DND for omissions. Ferguson’s stated concern that F-35 ownership costs could create problems for future defense budgets was also edited out, along with a passage of cost-related testimony from Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page, who has an unfriendly relationship with the current government. Sources: CBC News, “F-35 committee report strategically edited, draft suggests”.
Feb 11/13: Postmedia obtains documents from Canada’s 2005-2006 look at its fighter options, and discovers what DND thought of each option.
Eurofighter: “Remarkable” sensor fusion and fine cockpit, a powerful aircraft with effective air-to-air capabilities and reduced RCS, though it isn’t a full stealth aircraft. Might even be considered a borderline “5th generation” plane. The report worried about interoperability, and it also talked more bluntly about buying aircraft from anyone other than the USA. Relayed contents don’t mention Eurofighter’s low variety of integrated weapons and sensors, which is still an issue in 2013.
F/A-18 Super Hornet: Credible option with a lot of integrated weapons and bolt-on sensors, seen as a smaller shift for Canadian CF-18 maintainers. It seems to be the default backup for many nations that were considering the F-35 – and since then, the USN and Australia have proven them right. On the other hand, “It makes several compromises between approach speed, weight and structure.” The EA-18G electronic warfare option pursued by Australia is not reported, and seems not to have been mentioned.
JAS-39 Gripen: A “fairly stealthy” platform due to its small size, design, and use of radar-absorbing materials, but not a full stealth aircraft. They also liked its low maintenance costs. Its system for emergency landings and landings on short airfields is different from Canada’s, which would require changes. Doesn’t seem to have discussed the new JAS-39E/F, but then, the design was unclear at that time. It’s a lot clearer now.
Rafale: Seen a fast and maneuverable, with above-average range that’s a plus for Canada. Weren’t so impressed with the cockpit, and wondered about the Snecma M88 engine’s cold-weather performance. Relayed report contents didn’t focus on Rafale’s unique weapon incompatibilities with the American gear that fills Canada’s existing stores, and which can be diverted from US stocks for emergencies and joint efforts. That’s a big omission, but the relayed contents also missed Rafale’s strong SPECTRA electronic protection system, which proved itself over Libya 5 years later.
F-35: Saw its stealth features as unique. Flip side of this is that security at Canadian bases would become more elaborate and expensive. Worried that “many of the capabilities and performance features (of the F-35) such as signature, payload, speed, range and manoeuvrability, could change due to the U.S. focus on keeping the costs down.” Which is indeed happening. On the other side of the coin, F-35 sensors and sensor fusion are uniquely excellent, but that isn’t in the relayed report contents.
Canada’s competitor conclusions
Jan 29/13: Bridge buy? Canada’s Hill Times reports that Canada is considering a short-term bridging fighter buy. The key piece of information comes from the letter announcing the Industry Engagement Request, which also asked respondents to talk about options in to the 2020-2030 frame, and then options beyond 2030:
“The evaluation of options will review and assess all available fighter aircraft and will result in a comprehensive report with the best available information on the capabilities, costs, and risks of each option, including bridging and fleet options…”
That would put them in the same boat as Australia’s RAAF, which also flies upgraded F/A-18 Hornets. They’ve already received 12 F/A-18F Super Hornet fighters as a bridge, plus 12 more that will be converted to EA-18G electronic warfare and air defense suppression planes. Australia is finding that F-35 delays are creating the need for a longer bridge, and the RAAF could end up with a 50/50 long term split between the Super Hornet family and the F-35. In practice, a similar logic is likely for Canada: every “bridging” fighter bought is 1 fighter subtracted from their eventual F-35 order. Hill Times | CDFAI.
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Dec 16-17/12: Trust busted? An article in the Hill Times magazine quotes former DND assistant deputy minister for procurement Alan Williams, who says that “We know that the fiasco certainly started by the bureaucrats hijacking the process,” while ministers simply went along and didn’t ask questions.
The British TV hit “Yes, Minister” was based on that very premise, but this instance doesn’t seem to have the same comic value. Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page has had a publicly hostile relationship with the Conservative Party government, and he has been very critical of the CF-35 decision process (q.v. May 3/12), but it still matters when he says things like:
“Trust is broken. I don’t think you get, in terms of a reset, that trust back until you have that debate in front of Parliament…. From my view, the (F-35) process that we had up to date, certainly our experience in 2010-11, was a complete failure, and, I think, a lack of leadership both politically and I think by public servants as well…. There were numbers that existed at DND (Department of National Defence) that were much higher than what was presented to Parliament. Canadians saw the lower set of numbers… So in that sense, they were misled”
Dec 7/12: KPMG’s cost estimate. The precise figure for KPMG’s cost estimate is reported to be C$ 45.802 billion, based on an in-service life of 42 years. Current F-35 industrial participants are becoming worried, and a soon-to-be released companion study will take a second look at real figures for industrial benefits. Those estimates have already been quietly scaled back from C$ 12 billion to C$ 9.85 billion, and may drop further. The government defends their 20-year cost estimates, and they do have a point. Former treasury board official Michelle d’Auray:
“Going beyond 20 years is considered too high-risk to ensure that the value in contracting with industry would be sustained, or the costs would be going beyond the 20-year mark… So that, for us, is considered to be reasonable, and as the deputy minister of National Defence indicated, all of the submissions to date have been presented to the Treasury Board have used a 20-year cost estimate.”
Periods over 20 years are chancy for contracts, and wide potential variations in core inputs like fuel prices makes those estimates little better than guesses. Even guesses can still be of value, but only if they’re comparing components like fuel costs with other alternatives, using the same baseline pricing assumptions. See: Canadian Press | CTV | The Globe and Mail | National Post.
KPMG’s F-35A lifetime cost estimate
Dec 6/12: Not cancelled. Postmedia, which usually has good sources within the government, says Canada will pull out of the Joint Strike Fighter program. It turns out not to be true. Canada is about to analyze its options, and as noted earlier, Public Works has thrown out the specifications straightjacket. Early reports indicate that Boeing (Super Hornet) and Eurofighter have been approached for detailed information, with the possibility of broadening the invitation.
The other revelation in their article is that KPMG is done with their audit, which exceeds even the $29 billion maximum estimate from previous studies. Reports are pegging the potential 36-year lifecycle cost at C$ 40+ billion, though that involves a longer service life than previous estimates, and includes fuel costs. CBC | The Globe and Mail | National Post | Flight International.
Nov 30/12: Stealth. Gen. Tom Lawson, a former fighter pilot and Canada’s new chief of defence staff, tells a Parliamentary committee that the F-35 isn’t the only aircraft able to meet stealth requirements. The F-35 is better, he says, but when asked by Liberal defence critic John McKay whether there is only 1 airplane that can meet the Canadian military’s requirements in this area, Lawson said “no.” He later added, correctly, that “Fourth and fifth generation is not a very helpful way of looking at that aircraft.”
Canada’s exact “low observability” requirements, such as they are, have never been made public. It is true that even 4+ generation fighters like the Eurofighter, Gripen, Rafale, and Super Hornet will all have significantly smaller radar cross-sections that the current CF-18 fleet, even though several of them are bigger aircraft. The F-35 will be smaller again. See above for a more detailed discussion of “stealth.” CBC.
Nov 22/12: 1st cracks. Public Works Minister Rona Ambrose tells Canada’s House of Commons that Canada’s “review of options will not be constrained by the previous statement of requirements.” That seems minor, but it isn’t. DND’s requirements had been crafted to make the F-35 the only available choice, per the department’s standard pattern over the last 7-8 years. Breaking that lock opens up other options for consideration.
A serious analysis hasn’t been performed yet, but this statement is a sign that it could start. Much will depend on the exact people chosen to do the analyzing. CBC | CDFAI | iPolitics.ca.
Oct 22/12: New RCAF chief Lt.-Gen. Yvan Blondin tells the Canadian Press that DND hasn’t really begun looking at other fighter options beyond the F-35. A thorough examination of other possible aircraft would require a more detailed study by military planners, and he said that the order hasn’t been given. Blondin was asked twice during the interview whether other aircraft had been considered, and he replied: “No.”
That examination was central to the government’s promises after the negative 2011 Auditor General Report, so the government replied by saying that “work continues on the evaluation of options… The options analysis is a full evaluation of choices, not simply a refresh of the work that was done before.” None of which actually means that a serious evaluation is underway.
DID’s verdict: Lt-Gen. Blondin told the truth, and the government is being dishonest. There isn’t a serious analysis taking place. To date, any analysis has been a hasty and less-than-professional justification for a decision that’s already made. There is no sign yet that this pattern is changing. Canadian Press | Canada DND.
Sept 28/12. Requirements. Canada’s CBC obtains a redacted copy of Canada’s official Statement of Requirements for its next-generation fighter, and makes it available for download. As they explain:
“The Statement of Operational Requirements for Canada’s next jet fighter was produced by the Royal Canadian Air Force Directorate of Air Requirements in June, 2010. It wasn’t submitted to Canada’s Public Works department until after the government announced its decision to purchase 65 F35 Joint Strike Fighter aircraft in July, 2010. Normally Public Works is responsible for procuring hardware for the military after they have submitted their statement of requirements. [CBC Program} The Fifth Estate obtained this highly redacted copy through an Access to Information request."
Sept 7/12: Auditor hired. KPMG has been given a $643,535 to review/audit projections for the CF-35. Their offer was 1 of 2 bids reviewed by Treasury Board and Public Works and Government Services Canada. CBC.
Aug 9/12: Delayed audit. Almost 2 months after its self-imposed deadline, Public Works quietly re-issued a tender, asking for an audit firm to come forward and take on the politically explosive task of verifying the F-35 figures provided by DND. The minister's office tells Postmedia that the original tender was the problem, as it didn't give accounting firms enough flexibility to sub-contract portions of the project. This might be important, in order to gain in-depth expertise in defense procurement.
The new tender doesn't close until the end of August, which means the review might not even arrive in 2012. Postmedia.
May 24/12: Industrial. Lockheed Martin vice-president Steve O'Bryan talks to Canada's Postmedia News about the F-35. They're working on the understanding that Canada will place a production order in FY 2014
"Right now we will honour all existing contracts that we have. After that, all F-35 work will be directed into countries that are buying the airplane... What we have is the official statement out of the government and we're working with the government. They're committed to the F-35, they've selected it, and we haven't had any change in that official position."
That commitment has underpinned the JSF program's work with Canadian firms, which the National Post reports as C$ 435 million to 66 Canadian companies since 1997. Even if those partnerships stop, however, Canadian procurement policies will require industrial offsets from the winner worth 100% of purchase value. The industrial question for the F-35 involves the perceived long term technical and financial value of their work to Canada's aerospace industry, vs. the offsets their competitors might offer. That makes for a complex evaluation, but it's often a component of big-ticket defense competitions around the world. Postmedia.
May 15/12: Gone Rogue? Following a round of Parliamentary hearings, in which senior DND bureaucrats are grilled about their CF-35 program estimates and conduct, NDP MP Malcolm Allen goes so far as to say that:
"This is a department that's really gone rogue... [the minister] has totally lost control of that department… There’s no faith in this department anymore. None whatsoever.”
Allen is the Official Opposition party’s shadow minister for Agriculture, but he’s involved in the F-35 issue through his role on Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee. It’s expected that opposition members will oppose the government of the day, and the NDP’s socialism has always been coupled with an aversion to the military. With that said, for an MP in his position to level that kind of criticism at a government department, and use words like “no faith” and “out of control,” is a very rare thing. No political party rules forever, and if DND is seen as institutionally untrustworthy and dishonest by Canada’s other major parties, they will have created very dire future for themselves. <a href="http://www.canada.com/business/Defence+Department+gone+rogue+opposition+claims+a