Oct 12/10 - Pt 1: F-35's

The purchase of 65 new F-35 fighter jets is the most expensive in history by the Canadian government and worth every penny according to its Proponents. But the Opponents call this new hybrid design a step backwards in aviation and the cost of maintaining it will dwarf the cost of buying it.


It's Tuesday October 12th.

The Chilean miners who have be trapped underground for two months may be rescued as early as this week.

Currently ... Despite the good news, Starbucks says it still intends to open a franchise at the bottom of the shaft as soon as they can squeeze a barista down there.

This is the Current.

F-35 Fighter Jets

We started this segment with a clip from Jon Beesley ... Lockheed-Martin's Chief Pilot for the F-35 fighter jet... right after the plane's first test flight. But not everyone is talking about the F-35 in such glowing terms. The federal government is proposing an estimated $16 billion deal with Lockheed Martin to buy and maintain 65 of the jets. That already would be the most expensive government purchase in Canadian history. And critics worry problems such as production delays and software glitches could push the price tag even higher.

We aired a clip with Defence Minister Peter MacKay's comments on this from Question Period. And like Mr. MacKay, our next guest thinks the criticisms are being overblown. Retired Canadian Forces Lieutenant-General George MacDonald is the Honorary President of the Air Force Association of Canada. He is also a partner with CFN Consultants, a defence and security firm which counts Lockheed-Martin as one of its clients. George MacDonald was in Ottawa.

And Winslow Wheeler has kept close tabs on the F-35. For more than 30 years he worked on national security issues for various branches of the US government. He is the Director of the Straus Military Reform Project of the Center for Defense Information in Washington, DC. And today he was in Hagerstown, Maryland.

We requested an interview with Lockheed Martin, the manufacturer of the F-35 jets. The company would not participate in an interview, but spokesman John Kent did provide a statement, insisting the planes were both cost-effective and reliable.

In all F-35 production contracts signed to date, the aircraft's actual unit cost has been at or in most cases below government estimates. The F-35 price trend is continuing downward, and is on path to an average unit cost of about $60 million. The software glitch that resulted in the brief flight suspension was identified and corrected. In the more than 400 flights to date, the software issue never asserted itself, and there were never any problems with the jets in flight. The fix was implemented as a safety precaution. Software on the F-35 has been extremely stable and extremely reliable throughout the flight test program.

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