Sunday, April 08, 2012

Defence analysts

[I just keep going down this road, don't I?]

There's an article by a Wyss and Wilner in the most recent issue of the Canadian Military Journal, where they argue for the F-35 for Canada. The guts of their argument, which to me reads more like a glorified op-ed, are summed up in the following pieces from the introduction and conclusion.

Shifting technological demands and the future structure of the fighter jet industry will leave a mark on Canada’s air force. Global trends in the production of military hardware matter because where Ottawa buys its weapons can be just as important as what it buys. The arms trade is a political minefield. There are costs associated with procuring fighter jets that go well beyond the monetary value of each aircraft. The arms trade and the transfer of sophisticated military technology between states are as much driven by political demands as they are by strategic rationales. All things considered, and notwithstanding the ongoing debate over Canada’s planned purchase of the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF), the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II, the simple truth is that Canada has very few palatable alternative options.
The JSF remains a contentious albeit promising program. The aircraft is being produced by a U.S.-led consortium of eight (unequal) partners, of which Canada is a junior member.1 When it goes operational, the F-35 will be the most sophisticated multi-role fighter in the sky. While falling short of introducing a full-blown technological revolution, the F-35 and its emerging fifth-generation contemporaries represent the future. Already, Canada’s main allies have signaled their intent to fly F-35s. For Canada, doing the same guarantees interoperability. And given that uncertainty is the only certainty in international relations, ensuring Canadian pilots are flying the best machines into future combat will go a long way in making sure they can do their jobs safely and expeditiously. Naturally, the JSF has its faults. The program has suffered from a number of production and testing delays, and it appears to be exorbitantly expensive. But the bottom line remains: if Canadians are set on equipping their military with the most advanced arms available, political considerations and market demands all but guarantee that their only choice of aircraft is the F-35...

The JSF program has proven to be an exorbitantly expensive, imperfect, and risky endeavour. Canadians are right to debate the merit and cost of their participation. And yet, Canada has few viable alternatives. Arguments suggesting Canada can replace its ageing CF-18s with ‘souped-up,’ fourth-generation versions, ignore the bigger picture: these aircraft, no matter the upgrades, will eventually go the way of third- and second-generation aircraft – that is, to the dump. Flying a modern air force will require investing in fifth-generation technology, and unless Canadians are prepared to sacrifice American, European, and Western political relations as well as general goodwill in order to fly Russian or Chinese jets into combat, the F-35 is the only remaining option. And, of course, Ottawa should not presuppose that Moscow and Beijing would be willing to sell Canadians their most sophisticated hardware. 

Cost, risk, and problems be damned they say, as if the facts of the most expensive flying machine ever constructed delayed by massive engineering issues, are really nothing to worry about because what? Lockheed Martin has shown some improvement that make it a CF-18+ish? It is far more important to think that all other contenders will be obsolete sooner than the JSF except for Chinese or Russian aircraft(!). And of course there's that shibboleth about interoperability with allies in there, as if we can't do that now and haven't been doing it since that really big war we fought alongside all those other countries. And shamwow batman, "uncertainty is the only certainty" is a clever motto, not a basis for an argument for a fighter plane. There's whole bodies of scholarship on risk and uncertainty that would provide really interesting lenses for analysing the global strategic considerations that culminate in arguments for/against the F-35, but these authors didn't undertake that. Anyway, read it for yourself as it represents another echo in the chamber, this time with academic gloss rigour. Ponder in context their included photo and caption dated this past January about the F-35A  making its first night-flight ever, and then come talk to me about wise investments.

You know, perhaps all these analysts should consider what it means strategically, if we subscribe to their arguments, when entire nations and their allies (air forces included) bet the future of their combat air power on a single very expensive, very troublesome little aeroplane.


Dave said...

I am just rolling on the floor!

Boris said...

Thought you'd like that!

Boris said...

My favourite quote: "Arguably, it is highly likely that the F-35 will outclass previous genera- tions of fighters."(p.20)

Steve said...

you can put wings on a brick and it will fly, but its still a brick