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.

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