Monday, June 13, 2016

Fisher: Super Hornets will force Canada out of its own Arctic

Critics of the F-35 will laugh and say this is hyperbole and melodrama. It is not. Keeping the U.S. safe is the top priority of every U.S. president. If Canada cannot or will not protect its Atlantic, Pacific and northern approaches, its NORAD treaty with the U.S. permits Washington to do so.

Russia announced last week that its air force will begin deploying its first stealthy T-50 fifth-generation jet fighters next year. Such a timeline is highly doubtful. But Vladimir Putin has no higher priority than acquiring stealth technologies and, within a decade, T-50s will be deployed at air bases across the top of Russia.

Once this happens, and with threats from T-50-launched cruise missiles and Russian and North Korean intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), which fifth-generation aircraft such as the F-35 will be far more able to shoot down than Super Hornets, the reality is that the U.S. will do whatever it has to to defend itself.

That will mean patrolling Canada’s margins with USAF F-35s, which will use fighter jet-capable airfields in Iqaluit, Rankin Inlet, Inuvik and Yellowknife built mostly with U.S. money in the 1980s.

Worse than that, Washington will insist that Canada’s Super Hornets stay in the rear.

The reason is clear. Four allied air forces operate in the Arctic. The U.S., Norway and Denmark, which defends Greenland and sometimes deploys fighter jets to a base they jointly operate with the USAF at Thule, will soon only be flying state-of-the art F-35s in the Far North. The other country, Canada, will not.

The F-35 is revolutionary in that it will basically be a flying computer with sensor fusion. F-35s flying hundreds of kilometres apart will be able to create a common battle picture. Being stealthy, they will secretly patrol far more safely while collectively surveying vast amounts of territory for information that they can instantly share with each other, spy and command aircraft and ground stations.

Once the Super Hornet is found, as it will be by a stealthy enemy, F-35s in the vicinity will become targets, too. That is why the U.S. will not want Canadian fighters operating anywhere near its warplanes in the north.

A new argument advanced by the government last week is that there is a “credibility gap” for NATO and Norad with the existing F-18 Hornets that must be immediately filled by an interim purchase of Super Hornets. NATO and Norad people have privately but emphatically insisted that no such crisis exists and will not exist for about a decade, so there is no reason for Canada to rush to make a decision.

As for this being sold as an interim buy, with a decision on the F-35 later, this is a red herring. Canada has neither the money nor the military infrastructure to support two fleets of fighter aircraft.

An older but still persistent argument to support the Super Hornets is that it will be safer to operate in the Far North than the one engine F-35s. Advances in civilian and military jet engine technology long ago made such thinking obsolete. Otherwise, the Pentagon would not have decided that only F-35s will fly from its most northern air base near Fairbanks, Alaska.

The Super Hornets’ advantages in range, payload and an extra engine are irrelevant if the aircraft is not survivable. The Super Hornet will not be invisible to radar so, at a certain point in the not too distant future, it will be shot down long before it can engage the enemy.

With the U.S. defending Canadian air space because of Ottawa’s refusal to buy F-35s, what the RCAF will eventually end up with in the north is a niche capability in air/sea rescue.

That Canada is prepared to cede its defence and sovereignty over all three maritime approaches to the USAF is one of the many reasons that there is extreme disappointment and disbelief across the upper reaches of Canada’s military community about what has been decided. What makes them furious is the government’s refusal to discuss the matter.

Finland has looked at the numbers that Denmark came up with after a competition in which it chose the F-35 over the Super Hornet. As a result, the Finns are believed to be close to deciding that they, too, will reject the Super Hornet in favour of the F-35. If Finland follows Denmark’s lead, it will become the 12th western-oriented air force in a row to choose the F-35 over the Super Hornet, with Canada the only exception.

Canadians should ask themselves: Is everyone who made those decisions — including those confronting similar security challenges in the Arctic — stupid? What is it that makes Canada so unique that it feels it can ignore the collective wisdom of all its allies and friends?

There are no two more important issues for a government than national defence and sovereignty. Such matters must be settled fairly and as transparently as possible. Have the promised open competition to decide what aircraft is best to defend Canada for the next half-century

By: Matthew Fisher, The Ottawa Citizen 

LONDON — The most questionable aspect of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s quixotic decision to renege on the promise of an open competition for Canada’s next fighter jet and suddenly ram through the sole-source purchase of Super Hornets — a decision Postmedia News has revealed it is close to making — is that, by doing so, Canada will end up surrendering sovereignty of its Arctic air space to the United States Air Force in about 10 years.