By CHRISTOPHER GULY, and RACHEL AIELLO, The Hill Times
Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan says he’s moving as fast as a he can on finalizing a plan to replace Canada’s fighter jets but that the previous Conservative government “messed up” the process and that’s why things are taking so long,
“We’ve been moving on that as quickly as possible, but this file is extremely complex and it had been thoroughly, if I can say, messed up from the previous government and it has slowed things down,” Mr. Sajjan (Vancouver South. B.C.) said in an interview with The Hill Times last week. “We should have replaced our fighters a long time ago, and now we’re dealing with another potential capability gap for our Air Force.”
He said something would happen on this file “sooner rather than later” in terms of deciding on a process for picking a replacement to Canada's aging fleet of CF-18s.
Last week, the House of Commons National Defence Committee recommended that the government decide on a CF-18 replacement within the next 12 months.
Mr. Sajjan the government has to “make sure we have the right aircraft for our men and women. And it was only last November since we formed government, but replacement of the fighters was something we knew is a necessity.”
Meanwhile, man who once saw oversaw the lifecycle management of Canada’s CF-18 fighter jets says the Liberals should stick to their 2015 campaign commitment and not purchase the F-35 stealth fighters the former Conservative government wanted.
“We do not need the F-35,” said Paul Maillet, a retired Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) colonel who as an aerospace engineering officer was responsible for the military’s fleet of CF-18 Hornets.
He said that Canada would “pay far too much and get far too little” for Lockheed Martin’s F-35A Lightning II at a time when Justin Trudeau’s government is shifting the country’s military focus to peace operations.
The results of an independent audit by accounting firm KPMG, released in late 2012, pegged the cost of buying and maintaining 65 F-35s at $45.8-billion over a 42-year period. Mr. Maillet said the price tag is a lot higher in the U.S., which now considers the F-35 the standard for fighter jets.
“It will cost the Americans more than a trillion dollars, and it’s the most expensive military project ever,” he explained. “Yet we’re nearing the end of an era of manned fighter aircraft, and there’s a lot of overlap going on with unmanned drones right now.”
Mr. Maillet, who before his 2001 retirement from the military served as director of defence ethics at DND, said Canada doesn’t need stealth fighter jets to protect national sovereignty or contribute to United Nations or NATO peace missions.
“If we are no longer doing bombing campaigns in the Middle East, our money should be better spent elsewhere.”