The federal government's decision to spend $9 billion on new F-35 fighter jets is "fundamentally flawed" and totally unnecessary, according to a report released Thursday by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.
"Canada does not need the F-35, either for North American/domestic roles or for expeditionary roles," wrote CCPA research associate and Rideau Institute president Steven Staples. "The Canadian government should not proceed with the planned procurement of the F-35."
At the heart of Staples report is a contention that Canada simply does not need such advanced aircraft. The F-35 Lightning II would not respond better to an unpredictable emergency such as the Sept. 11 attacks than any aircraft Canada currently possesses, Staples wrote.
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Also, despite being the world's 13th largest military spender, Canada's military expenditures are so marginal, and the likelihood of launching expeditionary operations without its allies so remote, that the country's "contributions may be valued by our allies, but they will not be essential."
Criticism of contract appropriate
Instead, Canada could spend the money on a smaller range of what Staples calls "more general-use capabilities," such as pilotless surveillance aircraft, transport planes and heavy-lift helicopters." All of these could be used in humanitarian and peacekeeping operations — as well as combat missions — if necessary.
It could also limit itself to domestic or North American surveillance, investigate the future of long-range pilotless aircraft and spend its money on securing itself and the world in more effective ways, the eight-page report suggests.
The report is the latest criticism of the Conservatives' announcement, in July, that it would buy 65 F-35s from Lockheed Martin to replace the country's ageing fleet of CF-18s. Liberals have slammed the Tories not just for the price tag — at least $16 billion when contracts for support and maintenance are factored in — but because Lockheed Martin was awarded the contract with no competition.
Staples called that criticism appropriate, saying the deal "has put Lockheed Martin in an extremely strong bargaining position in future negotiations over maintenance costs."
Conservatives have also argued the purchase will create jobs at companies that produce parts for the F-35, such as Winnipeg's Bristol Aerospace Ltd.
But "such claims are dubious at best," Staples wrote, saying the F-35 contract contains "none of the spelled out 'offsets' that are typically built into such procurement projects."
Liberals applaud report
Liberal MPs welcomed the report, saying the Conservative government has to answer key questions about the fighter deal.
"Liberals want to replace the CF-18s, but we expect honest answers from the government to ensure we're getting the right plane and the best possible deal for taxpayers and the Canadian aerospace industry," said Marc Garneau, the party industry critic.
"This is the single largest military procurement in Canadian history," said Dominic LeBlanc, the defence critic. "We are deeply concerned that the government hasn't been straight with Canadians and that without competition, we're not getting the right plane, the best price or the greatest benefits for our aerospace industry."
The Liberals say if they don't get satisfactory answers, they will kill the deal if they get a chance.
The CCPA is an Ottawa-based research institute that calls itself one of Canada's leading progressive voices in public policy debates.