The Welland Tribune
Time for Canada to buy F-35s: pilot
Fighter is ‘as survivable, as effective and as lethal as promised,’ as government considers purchase
OTTAWA A former F-35 test pilot says Canada likely benefited from not purchasing the stealth fighter more than a decade ago, but that the time has come for Ottawa to finally end its waffling and commit to the aircraft.
Retired Royal Canadian Air Force lieutenant-colonel Billie Flynn also defended the F-35’s performance and reliability, which along with the stealth fighter’s cost remains a source of consternation in Washington and elsewhere.
“The F-35 is the most watched, observed and scrutinized procurement in history,” Flynn said in an interview. “It has turned out to be — albeit later than anyone ever hoped for — as survivable, as effective and as lethal as promised.”
The Liberal government launched negotiations last month for the purchase of 88 F-35s, entering what many hope is the homestretch in Canada’s agonizing search for new fighter jets to replace the air force’s aging CF-18s.
The negotiations with the U.S. government and American defence giant Lockheed Martin come 12 years after the previous Conservative government kicked off a firestorm of controversy by announcing Canada would buy 65 F-35s without a competition.
Flynn, who joined Lockheed Martin as an F-35 test pilot in 2003 after a 23-year career in the Royal Canadian Air Force, said Canada avoided many of the F-35’s early teething problems by not moving ahead with that original purchase.
Not only has the cost per plane come down over the years, Flynn said, but the F-35’s software “is dramatically more advanced now than it would have been had Canada purchased airplanes 10 years ago.” Canada also plans to buy more F-35s than before.
The type of F-35 that Canada is planning to buy cost about $84 million (US) each in 2019. That compared to $112 million in 2015.
Experts have nonetheless said there is no denying the costs incurred, including the investment of billions of dollars to keep the CF-18s in the air while the military waits for new fighter planes. Faith in the procurement system has also been shaken.
Meanwhile, the F-35 continues to experience problems, some of them significant.
The U.S. Government Accountability Office, the equivalent of Canada’s auditor general, released two reports last year outlining “critical deficiencies” in the plane that threaten its development and use.
The F-35 continues to experience problems, some of them significant.