Saturday, September 7, 2019

WILL SAAB STAY OR GO?



With Airbus officially withdrawing the Eurofighter Typhoon from Canada's Future Fighter Capability Project (FFCP), the next obvious question is:  "What about Saab?"

A fair question.  After all, what chance does a scrappy little fighter manufacturer like Saab have when a consortium consisting of aerospace giants Airbus, BAE, and Leonardo decides that Canada's FFCP is not worth the effort?  With Eurofighter and Dassault now gone, the Gripen is now the sole "Eurocanard" left to compete with the American entries sold by Boeing and Lockheed Martin.

How in the world can Saab possibly compete against these heavyweights?  The word "heavyweight" here cannot be stressed enough.  Both Boeing and LockMart enjoy a MASSIVE budgetary and geopolitical advantage over Saab.  Not only that, but their fighters are much larger as well.

In this case, both Saab and its fighter's relative size can be used as an advantage.

As per the Canadian government's criteria:
"Proposals will be rigorously assessed on elements of cost, technical requirements and economic benefits. The evaluation will also include an assessment of bidders’ impact on Canada’s economic interests."
Saab has to compete on price, performance/technology, and politics (ie job creation).

Price should be a non-issue.  The Gripen, even in its most advanced "E" variant, is notoriously inexpensive when compared to other fighter jets.  Even considering the additional requirements to make the aircraft suitable for NORAD operations, Saab should be able to keep the unit cost down to an acceptable level.  After all, they were able to sell 36 Gripen Es to Brazil for less than the 18 Super Hornets Canada was going to buy.  (These kind of deals are difficult to compare given the different specifics).  Even if the Gripen had an identical unit cost to the JSF or Super Hornet, it would still enjoy a huge advantage when it comes to operating costs.

Altogether, the Saab Gripen would present itself as the "Value" proposition.  Its almost a shoe-in when it comes to competing on cost.

Performance is another matter.  While the Gripen is no slouch (especially the Gripen E), being a smaller, single-engine fighter does have its limits.  While quicker and more maneuverable than the other two when carrying a light load, this changes considerably when additional payload is added.  A few precision bombs would not be a problem, but those looking for a heavy bomber should look elsewhere.

Technology-wise, the Gripen E slots right between the two Americans.  It has a similar radar (possibly better) to the Super Hornet and enjoys an integrated (rather than tacked-on) IRST sensor.  Both aircraft feature an advanced cockpit.  The Gripen does lack both the stealth and some of the more bleeding edge tech found in the F-35.  It makes up for this somewhat with being the only aircraft in the FFCP capable of utilizing the MBDA Meteor as well as some interesting electronic warfare options.

The Gripen E would surely be "good enough" performance-wise, but how well it stacks up to the other two will really depend on selection criteria.

As far "economic interests" are concerned...  This is where things get interesting.  Once again, Saab's size is a factor.  While Boeing and Lockheed are beholden to their massive assembly plants in St. Louis and Fort Worth, Saab has the option to build Canadian fighters in Canada.  This seems like a "slam dunk" but it is not so easy.  Saab would have to come up with a detailed business plan on how it would do this.  It would likely involve a Canadian aerospace company, much like Saab partnered with Embraer in Brazil.  Saab already has a partnership with Bombardier, utilizing the Global 6000 business jet in several of its offerings.  The last fighter built in Canada was the CF-5(116) Freedom Fighter built by Canadair (before privatization and amalgamation with Bombardier).  Despite this, there is still the possibility that Bombardier might not have the capability, or the will, to build a supersonic jet fighter.  There is still the possibility of partnering with another Canadian aerospace firm (like IMP Group) but Bombardier would likely be the first, possibly only choice.


Even after all this, Saab must make sure its proposal meets all security, performance, training, and cost criteria.    A Request for Proposal (RFP) is far more than a "How much for this many fighters?", it is an entire business case that needs to stand up to a third-party audit and similar due diligence.  The cost of even participating in Canada's FFCP is significant for a manufacturer like Saab, but the reward (88 fighters and a conquest over the JSF) is difficult to ignore.

One might think that the idea of the smaller Gripen beating out the two Americans is still nearly impossible, but so was the selection of Airbus's C295 over the C-27J and KC-390 for Canada's FWSAR.  The C295 won based primarily on pricing, a trend that will likely continue for a cash-strapped Canadian Forces.

The fact that Saab has made it this long is to be commended.  The Gripen is a clear underdog in a field that includes the F-35 and Super Hornet; both fighters that, at one point, were just a few signatures away from becoming Canada's next fighter aircraft.  Five years ago, the idea of a Canadian Gripen seemed nearly impossible.  Now, one could argue that Saab has a better chance than even Boeing.

If Saab can secure Canadian manufacturing capability, and if the Gripen E lives up to its promise of 5th Generation capability at a 4th Generation price...  They might just pull this off.

Friday, August 30, 2019

EUROFIGHTER DROPS OUT

Typhoon, we hardly knew ye...
Airbus, which represents the Eurofighter consortium, announced the decision to withdraw from Canada's future fighter competition.  This follows Dassault, which announced its decision to leave back in November of last year.  This leaves Lockheed Martin, Boeing, and Saab pitching their F-35, Super Hornet, and Gripen; respectively.

I wish I could say this came as a surprise.  Sadly, anyone who has been paying attention should have seen this coming.

Airbus's reasoning for dropping out of the competition sound suspiciously close to Dassault's; citing difficulty meeting security requirements and a last-minute alteration to the RFP that seemed to favor the JSF.
“A detailed review has led the parties to conclude that NORAD security requirements continue to place too significant of a cost on platforms whose manufacture and repair chains sit outside the United States-Canada 2-EYES community,” the statement from Airbus and the UK Defence Ministry noted. “Second, both parties concluded that the significant recent revision of industrial technological benefits obligations does not sufficiently value the binding commitments the Typhoon Canada package was willing to make, and which were one of its major points of focus.”
Basically, the Eurofighter consortium is stating they could not offer an economically competitive bid. They blame this security requirements...  But c'mon...

Still waiting on that AESA radar...
The Typhoon is a great fighter.  Possibly one of the best fighters flying in the world right now.  For its price, it damn well should be.  Unfortunately, Canada is not buying fighters based on "now" it is buying fighters for the post-2025 timeframe.  This is where the Typhoon falls woefully short.

Eurofighter's future is murky and complicated.  While a great deal has been said about the Typhoon's future potential, very little has been actually done about it.  No current customer has been willing to bankroll the improvements needed to make the Typhoon competitive compared to it rivals.  Promised upgrades like conformal fuel tanks and thrust-vectoring seem to have died on the vine.  With Typhoon production coming to an end, the chances of seeing these upgrades seem slim.

Performance-wise, the Typhoon was easily the most impressive of the potential CF-18 replacements.

Technology-wise, it left something to be desired.  No "widescreen" MFD like those seen on the JSF or Gripen E.  No AESA radar yet.  No stealth.  Canada could likely order a Typhoon with AESA radar and advanced display...  But at a substantially higher price since no other customer is willing to split the bill on development costs.

The Typhoon's economics have always been its Achilles' Heel.  Its multinational origin has led to countless layers of bureaucracy.  While the aircraft itself is impressive, its expensive and inefficient industrial model was clearly designed by committee.  As the F-35's cost has (debatably) come down, it has left the Eurofighter in the unenviable position of being the most expensive jet in the comparison.  Worse still, there seems to be no scenario that would indicate a drop in Typhoon prices.  A rise in price seem more likely, thanks to the instability of Brexit.

Operating expenses are high as well, with Austria still on the fence about replacing its Typhoon fleet due to high costs.

The Tempest.
Possibly the biggest strike against the Typhoon is its "partner nations" is the disinterest from its own "partner nations".  The UK has ordered its last Typhoon.  Germany can barely keep their Typhoons in the air.  Neither Spain and Italy seem likely to order more, even if they could afford them.

All the original Eurofighter partners seem to be happy to let the Typhoon stagnate.  Instead, momentum is building for its (and the Rafale's) replacement.  For BAE, Rolls-Royce, MBDA, and Leonardo; this would be the Tempest.  Dassault and Airbus have pitched the FCAS (Future Combat Air System).

This leaves the obvious question:  If the Typhoon's own parents want little to do with it; why should Canada?

So where does this leave the remaining three manufacturers?  Is Canada's future fighter replacement program on its way to being decided by default?

It would seem possible.



And then there were three...


Boeing could drop out given the "Boeing clause".  Given Boeing's actions against the Bombardier C-Series and (by proxy) Canada itself, it has nobody else but itself to blame for.  Play stupid games, win stupid prizes.

Saab could easily drop out citing the same reasons stated by Dassault and Airbus.  Saab is in a different position, however.  Its "next-generation" Gripen E is cheaper than both the Rafale and Typhoon with easily the cheapest sustainment costs.  It is equipped with all the "must-haves" like HMD, IRST, AESA radar, and a modern cockpit with a "widescreen display".  The Gripen E also has a clear future with both Sweden and Brazil signing on.

Most important is Saab's "ace-in-the-hole":  It has offered to build Gripens in Canada.  In a competition that places emphasis on industrial, technological, and economic benefits; this CANNOT be overstated.  Especially given the current election cycle and political climate with our southern neighbors.

Perhaps Saab's current progress with the Gripen E was the "last straw" in Airbus's decision to drop out.  With the F-35 clearly occupying the "high end" of the fighter market and the Gripen in the "low end" of the fighter market; the Typhoon occupies a sort of "no mans' land".  It lacks the technological prowess of the F-35 at a similar cost.  Meanwhile, the Gripen offer similar performance and more tech at a much lower cost.

The Typhoon was always going to be a tough sell.

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

THE CONTEST IS ON... NOW WHAT?



FINALLY.

After years of delays, setbacks, controversies, and false starts; Canada is now on its way to finding a replacement for its aging CF-18 fighters.

There are still doubts as to whether or not the process will be fair.  Both Airbus and Boeing have expressed concerns that the RFP is skewed in favour of the F-35.  The RFP draft was modified after Lockheed Martin complained that its “industrial offset” clause all but disqualified the F-35.  That same modification gave additional points for sustainment, however.  This tilts the contest away from the JSF, as its current sustainment model is an absolute mess.

Of course, with a federal election coming up this fall; things could go sideways yet again.

The Liberal government has taken some flak (rightly so) for its handling of the CF-18 replacement.  After criticizing the previous Conservative government, the right thing to do would have been to immediately start rewriting an RFP and attempt to have a new fighter chosen before the next election.  Instead, the Trudeau government decided to “dither” and start the process over from scratch after reevaluating Canada’s fighter jet requirements.

Almost happened...  Almost.
This led to the decision that Canada was currently experiencing a “capability gap” and that Canada needed more fighters than the 65 F-35s planned for previously.  This decision opened the door for an purchase of 18 Boeing F/A-18E Super Hornets to fill this gap.

The Super Hornet deal seemed dicey from the start.

The RCAF could have certainly used 18 brand new fighters.  The Super Hornet was also the logical choice given its commonality with the current CF-18 fleet.  This deal would have been a little too “convenient” however, as it allowed the Liberal government to delay a true CF-18 replacement program with simultaneously given the Super Hornet a distinct advantage going into a competition.

Fate and Boeing’s hubris would conspire to torpedo that particular deal.  Not only that, but Boeing seriously hurt its chances moving forward as well.  Boeing’s attempt to squash Bombardier’s new C-Series proved disastrous for itself while simultaneously boosting its largest competitor.

Designed by Canadians, sold by Europeans, built in Alabama.  

Now, instead of brand new Super Hornets, the RCAF will have to make do with used F/A-18 Hornets from the Australia.  Better than nothing...  But Canada’s entire fighter fleet will still be older than most of the pilots flying them by the time they are replaced starting in 2025.

The Conservative Party of Canada has criticized the government’s delays and have promised to “immediately select a new fighter jet through a fair and transparent competition.”.  How they plan to do that when a competition is already in place is unclear. They would either have to simply abide by the current competition (ie: taking credit for a process started by Liberals) or simply choose the same fighter they chose years ago (the F-35). The only other option would be to start the entire process over YET AGAIN.

Please...  no.

Gripen Es.

As for this blog, long time readers have likely notices that post are becoming fewer and further in-between.  The reason for this is two-fold:

Firstly, a dramatic change in my personal life has left me focusing more time on my family and my "day job" for the time being.  There are only so many hours in a day and days in a week...  And there never seems to be enough.

Secondly, there just isn't that much left to say.  After all these years, I still believe that the Saab Gripen E is the "Best Fighter for Canada" with the Eurofighter Typhoon coming in second.  The F-35 is still troubled after all these years and still seems unsuitable for Canada's needs.  It may be better than was, but it still has a long way to go.

I will still be following Canada's fighter procurement process (I've come this far...) and posting the occasional update.  At this point in the process, there is very little else to do.  Canada's fighter jet decision is now in the hands of the manufacturers and whomever judges their bids.  Whatever the outcome, expect some gnashing of teeth among the losing bidders and opposition parties.  This is normal.

Hopefully, Canada's long-running search for a XF-18 replacement is coming to a conclusion.  The next question will be:  "What do we do about our aging CP-140 Auroras?"

The cycle never ends.


Monday, July 1, 2019

IS IT GOING TO BE A FAIR COMPETITION?



From the very start of this blog (and the one before it) its mission has been to advocate for a fair and open competition to replace the CF-18.  At the time, one of the biggest issues regarding Canada's pending F-35 purchase was how the fighter was selected in the first place.  For those of you who do not remember, the JSF was chosen with barely a cursory glance towards its competition.  The reasoning for this was that the F-35(C) was replacing the F/A-18 in the USA, so it only made sense...

Never mind that the F-35 was developed with little-to-no thought into Canada's needs and budgets.

In what now seems like a perfect storm of controversy, Canada's JSF purchase was delayed, "reset", and then eventually cancelled altogether following years of cost overruns, technical issues, and criticism.  The Liberal Party of Canada's promise to nix the F-35 purchase helped them win the last federal election.

"LOL...  I don't know."

Despite their insistence on a "fair and open" competition to replace the CF-18, you could certainly tell that the newly crowned Liberal government had a preference for the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet.  So much so that it was willing to sole-source 18 Super Hornets as a means to compensate for a nebulous "capability gap".  This made a certain amount of sense, as the the Super Hornet does have some commonality with the CF-18.  The decision did raise some suspicions, however, since it seemed to give the Super Hornet an advantage in the upcoming competition.

That controversy soon became moot when Boeing's strong-arm tactics against Bombardier caused it to quickly fall out of favor with the Canadian population as a whole.  Those brand-new Super Hornets got replaced with hand-me-down Australian F/A-18s.  Awkward.

Now, with both the Lockheed Martin F-35 or the Boeing Super Hornet having political strings attached, is Canada poised for an actual FAIR competition to replace the CF-18?

Well...  Maybe.

"Beast Mode" bomb load...  No longer needed?
Recently, it was discovered that emphasis was placed on a fighter's "strategic attack" capability.  This means that the ability to deliver bombs to foreign soil was considered more important that intercepting threats to Canada's airspace.  This does not seem very Canadian.  It is, coincidently, the thing that the F-35 is likely best at.  Could this stipulation be a hold-over from the days when the JSF was the defecto choice to replace the CF-18?

Lockheed Martin also kicked up a fuss due to Canada's requirement that fighter manufacturers to commit to spending 100% acquisition and sustainment costs back into Canada.  This is in direct contradiction to the JSF's business model.

Thankfully, both of these issues have been addressed.  Newer requirements put less emphasis on "strategic attack" and more on "sustainability".  It also docks points on failure to meet industrial benefits rather than strictly disqualifying.

This is a good thing.

Some might decry the reduced emphasis on "strategic attack" as skewing the contest away from the F-35.  This is true, but only in the sense that the F-35 was designed for a mission that Canada rarely participates in.  Sure, it is a role the RCAF has participated in as part of a coalition, but dropping bombs on foreign soil should not be a priority over self-defense duties.

JSF supporters should also be thankful that the RFP has been modifies to allow penalize, rather than disqualify, failure to meet offset targets.  One can argue the merits of the F-35 industrial partnership but it is ultimately a gamble.


With both the Super Hornet and JSF becoming political pariahs, the time has never been better for the European entries.

Politically, the Eurofighter Typhoon seems to be in an enviable position.  Its Airbus component helped rescue the troubled Bombardier C-Series (although some might see the situation in a more predatory light).  The long awaited FWSAR CC-295 seems to be coming along smoothly as well.  For some, Airbus has an advantage right now simply because it is not American.

Unfortunately for Airbus, it is not alone in the Eurofighter consortium.  The Typhoon's biggest stumbling block may be its multiple partners and existing stakeholders failing to reach consensus.  This leaves new buyers on the hook for newer updates like the CAPTOR-E AESA radar.


More so than the Typhoon, Saab's Gripen may have found itself in an increasingly advantageous position.  Circumstances have gradually transformed the Gripen from an also-ran, to a dark horse contender, to a serious contender.

Unlike Eurofighter, Saab does not have the need to debate every future upgrade by committee.  While it lacks similar resources, Saab is leaner and meaner.  This allowed the Gripen  to integrate the Meteor missile well before the Typhoon and Rafale.

The Gripen also fairs better given Canada's tweaked requirements.  Putting more emphasis on "sustainment" plays into its strengths while placing less emphasis on "strategic attack" mitigates its weakness of lighter bomb load.

Saab does lack the political capitol of its rivals, however.  It simply cannot match the lobbying power of Lockheed Martin, Boeing and Airbus.  There is also the awkward fact that the Gripen E is not yet in service.  While testing is going well, there are still no denying the fact that the Gripen is not quite ready.

Given that the first CF-18 replacement is scheduled to arrive in 2025, there is still plenty of time.




Oddly enough, Canada may have stumbled on to a fair fighter competition not by design, but by accident.  The Tories has a clear preference for the F-35, while the Liberals seemed to prefer the Super Hornet.  Now, with both American entries having serious political baggage attached, the fighters may need to be judged based on *gasp* their own merits.

Strange, I know.









Wednesday, June 5, 2019

SAAB GETS SERIOUS

Gripen for Canada?  That sounds familiar...
It's happening.

After years of uncertainty, we now know that the Saab Gripen is a serious contender in the contest to replace the CF-18.

This may not seem like big news.  The Gripen has long been mentioned alongside other potential contenders like the F-35 and Super Hornet.  This humble writer has been extolling the Gripen's virtues for years.

So what is different now?

Saab has made it official.  After years of little to mention on its website, Canada now has a dedicated subsection.

Saab has also made a much more prominent appearance at this years CANSEC.  Not only do we have a media brief that focuses on Canada's needs, but Saab has a full size mock-up of the Gripen E on display.

That digicam tho...
Media briefings and mock-ups help raise awareness of the platform, but Saab has a long way to go before it can catch up to more established players like Lockheed Martin, Boeing, and Airbus.  What does a (relatively) small contractor like Saab have to offer that the others do not?

For one, Saab is focusing on the Gripen's typical strengths of cost efficiency, flexibility, and suitability for Arctic operations.  No surprise there.

But wait...  There's more.

Saab has committed to assemble Gripens in Canada.  

This give the Gripen a huge leg up in a contest that places a great deal of emphasis on industrial offsets and technology transfer.  It is a deal that Lockheed Martin and Boeing simply could not do.  Airbus has previously hinted that it may be able do this, but it would be difficult given the Typhoon's convoluted supply-chain and manufacturing process.

For Saab, building Gripens in Canada is a win-win scenario.  Not only does is entice a potential buyer, it takes some pressure off Saab's current Gripen assembly line, which has its hands full constructing fighters for Sweden, Brazil, and others.  Brazil has already taken advantage of Saab's offer to build fighters there.  If it makes economic sense to construct a small number (28 possibly more) of Gripens in Brazil, it certainly makes sense for Canada.

Beyond the economics, there is the simple matter of national pride that would come with Canada building its own fighters again.  Something that has not happened since...  What was that fighter called again?

The real question:  If Canada selects the Gripen, what do we call it?  We already have a Griffon helicopter, so a direct translation would not work.

A Canadian-made, delta-wing, mach 2 fighter?

Just call it the CF-39 Arrow II.

Friday, May 10, 2019

LOCKMART THROWS TANTRUM... GETS RULES CHANGED... SLIGHTLY.



We are now approaching the end of the beginning of Canada's meandering quest to replace the CF-18 Hornet.  Later this month, the Government of Canada will finally release an official RFP (Request for Proposals) to the fighter manufacturers.  

Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Airbus (representing Eurofighter), and Saab will then have until the end of the year to submit their bid to replace the RCAF's aging fleet of CF-18s.  Dassault respectfully declined to offer its Rafale due to compatibility reasons.  

Once the RFP is released, the decision should be (mostly) out of the politicians' hands.  Even if the government changes in the upcoming election, restarting the process yet again would be politically catastrophic.  

In short...



Of course, Canada's fighter jet replacement program has to put up with at least one more hurdle before it can get on to business.  In this case, its Lockheed Martin and the Trump administration crying foul.  

A report released earlier this week takes umbrage with Canada's fighter selection criteria, stating that it is "fundamentally and structurally prejudicial to any F-35 bid."  Why?  Because it forces Lockheed Martin to abide by the same rules that Canada has had in place for any major military purchase for the last several decades.

At issue is Canada's stipulation for manufacturers to guarantee industrial offsets for Canada.  If Canada is going to spend billions of dollars on equipment and services, it seems only fair that the manufacturer commit to investing some of that money back into Canada.

Unfortunately, that is not how the JSF program works. 

In the convoluted Joint Strike Fighter program, potential customers join up as a "partner".  Partner nations are allowed to bid on F-35 related work.  The more a partner pays into the program, the more work they are allowed to bid on in order to make that money back.  While not technically a pyramid scheme...  It does share some characteristics:  While there is a potential to come out ahead, there are no guarantees.  There is also a competitive nature inherent in the program.  Potential JSF contractors have little choice but to provide their services at the thinnest of margins in order to stay competitive. Others might be tempted to go even further and cut corners.  


In short, the F-35 is a supersonic collection of parts, each of which was supplied by the lowest bidder and cobbled together by the world's largest defence contractor.  What could possibly go wrong?

They're gonna need to scratch a few of those flags off...

So far, Canada has invested enough into the JSF program that it is considered a "Level 3" partner.  This has paid off somewhat, with $1.3 billion worth of F-35 contracts being rewarded to Canada's aerospace sector.  It also means Canada will be able to bid on future F-35 work.  

Moving forward, Canada may very well come out ahead on the F-35.  With plans to build thousands of the stealth fighters, combined with Canada's strong aerospace infrastructure, we have a good chance of being one of the "winners" in the JSF program...  Or we might see nothing else at all.  It is a complete gamble.  

That is the sticking point.  

Needless to say, Canada's requirement for guaranteed industrial offsets do not sit well with Lockheed Martin, who prefer to promote the F-35 on potential industrial offsets.  

Even The Pentagon has gotten involved, threatening to withdraw the F-35 if Canada did not waive its Industrial and Technological Benefits (ITB) policy.  

Claims its the best fighter...  But demands special treatment.
So what does Canada do?  

We cave in...  Sort of.  

The Federal Government has decided to allow a "flexible approach" when it comes to determining industrial benefits.  With nearly $20 billion being spent, you can be assured that there is going a be a large emphasis on seeing substantial return on our investment.  A European manufacturer promising a guaranteed industrial offset is going to be at a huge advantage over a potential industrial offset.  

At this point in the game, the European manufacturers seem to be in the stronger position than ever.  Neither Airbus or Saab have made many waves, and seem to be simply happy to supply Canada with a fighter bid.  At the same time both American manufacturers have seemingly tried to bully us into buying their wares.  One wonders if this a is wise move given the current political climate.  

Five years ago, it seemed an almost certainty that the F-35 would replace the CF-18.  If not, the Super Hornet would have been the next logical choice; with the "Eurocanards" a distant long-shot.  Now, Boeing and Lockheed Martin seem to have snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.  

This could very well end up being a two-way race between the Gripen and the Typhoon.  Strange times indeed.  









Friday, April 12, 2019

LIGHTNING DOWN.


On April 9th, 2019, a Japanese F-35 Lightning II went missing while flying over the Pacific.  Not much is known so far other than the pilot signaled the need to abort the mission shortly before disappearing from radar.  Debris found in the area has been confirmed to be from the mission plane.  No word yet on the condition of the missing pilot.

This is not good.

Even for the troubled and tumultuous history surrounding the F-35, this is not good.  For more reasons than those one might usually suspect.

There is of course, the damage this incident does to the JSF's already troubled safety reputation.  A reputation that includes one previous crash, engine fires, and oxygen deprivation.  One could argue that no aircraft is completely safe, but given both the F-35's newness and importance to allied airpower, any mishap worthy of concern.

Just as concerning is the security risk this incident brings up.  The F-35's "killer app" is its stealth.  The very nature of a stealth design dictates a high level of security surrounding the aircraft.  To put it simply, the less a potential enemy knows about the aircraft, the better.

Building a stealth aircraft consists much more than the aircraft's shape.  Every aspect of the plane's construction needs to be considered.  Stealth design is dependent on the materials used in construction, the way heat is dissipated, excess electromagnetic radiation from the avionics, and other mundane items need to be tightly controlled to minimize radar and heat signature.

Losing a top secret stealth aircraft over international waters is a scenario right out of a Bond movie or Tom Clancy novel.  It represents a substantial prize for foreign intelligence agencies.  Even the smallest detail would give insight into how to better detect the JSF, not to mention how to improve upon competing stealth designs.  A piece of its radar-absorbent material (RAM) coating alone would make the effort worth it.  Something more substantial, like the flight-data recorder or other "mission systems" could reveal enough about the radar signature to give hostile weapon systems an advantage...  Or perhaps a way for to hack into the JSF's infamous ALIS (Autonomic Logistics Information System).  Even the smallest bit of debris could turn into a security risk.  The capture of a downed pilot would catastrophic.

Thankfully, the remaining wreckage of the missing F-35 has been found, and a salvage operation will soon be underway.  Even this brings up security concerns. Everyone involved in the process will require security clearance and scrutiny, lest they be compromised by some foreign interest.


Imagine, if you will...  A similar incident happening in the future.  However, instead of happening to a Japanese F-35 over the Pacific, it happens to a hypothetical RCAF over the arctic.

The year is 2029.  Canada has selected the Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II as its replacement for the CF-188 Hornet.  Deliveries have been ongoing and crews are transitioning over to the new fighter.  

Tragedy strikes when a CF-35 is lost while performing exercises out of one of the RCAF's Forward Operating Locations (FOL) at Iqaluit Airport in Nunavut.  The aircraft disappeared from radar contact and its exact position is so far unknown.  

Rescue and recovery operations are activated immediately.  The Canadian Cost Guard and Search and rescue Squadrons from both 9 Wing Gander and 14 Wing Greenwood are pressed into action, to be assisted by a (now nearly 50-year-old) CP-140-Aurora surveillance plane.  The USA has agreed to offer any and all assistance needed to recover the pilot and aircraft.  Military Police and CSIS have been dispatched to Iqaluit to investigate any possible security concerns.  

Matters are complicated, however, by Russia's recent military build up in the arctic.  They have offered to "assist" in recovery efforts, but have been rebuked given the sensitive nature of the aircraft.   Instead, they have increased their presence in the disputed area where the CF-35 was last seen.  This includes a nuclear-powered Arktika-class icebreaker, capable of navigating in ice 3 meters thick. Neither Canada or the USA have anything approaching the Arktika-class's capability.  Unfortunately, Canada has but a single Polar Class 2 Icebreaker, the CCGS John G. Diefenbaker capable of operating in ice up to 2.5 meters thick.  

It is assumed Russia has dispatched nuclear submarines to the area as well, knowing full well that Canada lacks the capability to operate under arctic ice with its own subs.  There is also talk of a possible "ice-breaker sub" that is rumored to exist in Russia's fleet.  

Complicating matters even further is the recent appearance of China's newest icebreaker in the area. While not much is known about the vessel, it appears to be larger and more powerful than Russia's Arktika-class.  

Increased presence in the area have caused diplomatic tension among all parties.  Not only are there concerns about Chinese and Russian incursion into Canadian territory, but some have voiced concerns about increased American military presence on sovereign Canadian soil.  In the meantime, the RCAF has been forced with the difficult decision as to whether it should ground its F-35 fleet and rely solely on ancient CF-18s during this time of increased tension.  

Once again, both Canadian news agencies and political opposition parties are questioning the wisdom of Canada going "all in" with the F-35 program.  Internationally, some question whether or not Canada has the ability to keep the aircraft's secrets given Canada's history of lackadaisical defense spending.  



The previous hypothetical situation is exactly that...  Hypothetical.  It is not out of the realm of possibility, however.  Operating a stealth aircraft requires many caveats.  Day-to-day operations require increased security.  An unplanned event like a crash could have repercussions far beyond the potential for loss of life.

For an aircraft like the F-35, additional security is mandatory.  Security concerns have put a kibosh the Turkey's F-35 acquisition.  This includes the additional resources required to contain any adverse event.  A Canada committing to the JSF would also be required to commit additional resources around every aspect of that fighter.  This include operations in less-than-ideal environments.

Is Canada willing to take that responsibility?