Buying single-engine F-35s for Canada a 'serious mistake': report

The federal government is being urged to reconsider its expected decision to buy a fleet of F-35 fighters. This time the argument isn’t about cost or procurement problems, it's about what's inside the plane.

Michael Byers's One Dead Pilot report urges government to look at 2-engine options to replace CF-18s

Michael Byers's One Dead Pilot report urges the federal government to reconsider the F-35 and instead look at 2-engine options to replace the CF-18. (Tom Reynolds/Lockheed Martin Corp./Reuters)

The federal government is being urged to reconsider its expected decision to buy a fleet of F-35 fighters. This time the argument isn’t about cost or procurement problems, it's about what's inside the plane. 

The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives released a report by Michael Byers this morning in Ottawa.

Entitled "One Dead Pilot," the report argues that fighter aircraft with a single engine — as the F-35 has — are too dangerous and unreliable to be used by the Canadian military.

"This issue is especially important for Canada, which has the longest coastline in the world and vast Arctic territories," writes Byers.

Bird strikes

In the report, Byers compares the F-35 to the single-engine CF-104 Starfighter, which the Canadian air force used from the 1960s to 1987 and which was involved in 110 crashes in that time.

A quarter of those crashes were attributed to bird strikes and the fact there was no secondary engine to allow the plane to keep flying.

Byers is the Canada Research Chair in Global Politics and International Law and the University of British Columbia and also a former NDP candidate.

"Engine failures will still occur, and when they do so away from an airport, a second engine is the only thing that can prevent a crash," Byers concludes.

Serious mistake

"The need for a twin-engine fighter jet is very clear, and purchasing a single-engine fighter jet would be a serious mistake," he said.

The government is expected to make a final decision on the replacement for the CF-18 as early as this week.

Although Byers says the F-35 is not the plane for Canada, he has no issues with other countries opting for the strike-fighter.

As an example, he notes the U.S. has a much higher density of airports on its territory — providing greater options for emergency landing in the event of engine failure.

Hedging bets

Byers also says the U.S. has "hedged its bets," by having in its air force fleet the twin-engine F-22.

"The United States bases many of its F-22s in Alaska," he adds. "The F-35s will not be based in Alaska because a single-engine plane is inappropriate for the Arctic — the United States Air Force has decided that."

Byers says the Royal Canadian Air Force has studied the F-35 carefully, and may very well have examined the issue of single-engine versus twin — but the RCAF isn’t making its report public.

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