|December 12, 2012: Peter MacKay gets a headache.|
So, what has happened in the last year to bring Canada closer to a proper CF-18 replacement?
Okay. Maybe a little more than that. But not much.
The entire F-35 fleet was grounded over concerns about crack found in the engine. This was determined to be a "minor" issue, and the fleet was eventually cleared for flight again.
Time magazine publishes an in depth look at the "Most Expensive Weapon Ever Built". While the article doesn't focus on Canada's involvement with the JSF program, it does bring to light three glaring issues with the F-35 program. First, the jet is a compromise. Second, development has been slower than anticipated. Third, the aircraft is grossly expensive during a time when the US government is being forced to cut costs across the board.
Time magazine makes it clear: The F-35 still has a way to go, and a hard path to get there.
JSF partner Turkey considers postponing its F-35 order.
Boeing starts its marketing push for the F-18E/F Super Hornet as a replacement for the CF-18. Boeing claims that the Super Hornet can do much of the same job as the F-35, but far cheaper.
In a move similar to Canada's "reset", Denmark, another JSF partner, starts considering alternatives to the F-35.
Canada's Public Works and Government Services ministry releases a "Draft Industry Engagement Request". This convoluted jumble of words appears to be a request for fighter manufacturers to talk up their wares and explain why their fighter is better than the others.
In a PR counter-attack, Lockheed Martin hosts a F-35 "Webinar" answering questions and concerns about the F-35. Hosted by LockMart Vice-President Stephen O'Bryan and test pilot Billie Flynn, the presentation focused on the usual F-35 buzzwords like "stealth", "interoperability", "sensor fusion", and "5th generation". By their responses, it does sound like the F-35 should be fairly safe from US budget cuts and will be a very good ground attack aircraft.
Billie Flynn also seems to think that the F-35 will be a really good arctic patrol plane, because "you need stealth". Also, cold weather testing isn't scheduled until 2014.
(Sorry I can't post a link to the webinar. It's been taken down.)
Saab bugs out. Stating that it does not believe that Canada is truly holding a fair competition, Saab declines to answer Canada's fighter questionnaire. It hints that it may return if Canada's government holds an open competition.
Bestfighter4canada.blogspot.ca is introduced. With the Gripen out of the running, the debate still remains. What's the best fighter for Canada?
Dassault Senior Vice-President Yves Robbins calls for Canada to hold an open fighter competition. Robbins states that the Rafale would fit Canada's needs just as well, if not better, than the F-35.
Two of the major faces responsible for Canada's next jet fighter change positions in the federal government's cabinet shuffle. Peter MacKay is replaced by Rob Nicholson as Minister of Defense, and Diane Finley takes over Rona Ambrose's job as Minister of Public Works.
The F-35 Lightning II is disqualified from South Korea's F-X III fighter competition on the grounds that it is too expensive. S. Korea is looking for 60 fighters for $7.2 billion.
Shortly after disqualifying the F-35, South Korea disqualifies the proposed Eurofighter Typhoon bid on the grounds that, despite meeting the budget requirement, does not include enough two-seat models. Boeing's F-15SE "Silent Eagle" is considered the winner by default.
Rumors start circulating about a possible joint venture between Boeing and Saab to produce a jet trainer based on the Gripen to replace the USAF's T-38 Talon. For the record, I called this back in May.
Lockheed Martin threatens to take business away from Canada if it doesn't select the F-35. Business that hasn't actually started yet. It should also be noted, that as a Tier 3 partner, Canada already has and is free to bid on future work for the F-35, whether or not we decide to buy.
Armed with a budget of $6 billion, The Netherlands agrees to buy 37 F-35A fighters. This is less than half that originally planned to replace 85 Dutch F-16s on a one-to-one basis.
South Korea decides it doesn't want the F-15SE, despite the Silent Eagle being the only aircraft left standing in the F-X III.
Retired RCAF Lt. General Charles Bouchard takes an "entry level" position in Lockheed Martin. By "entry level" I mean "in charge of Canadian operations". Several months before this, Bouchard was asked to take part in a panel studying F-35 alternatives. He declined, stating he was "too busy".
Dassault Vice-President Yves Robins again calls for an open competition, this time with Canadian Public Works minister Diane Finley sitting only a few feet away at an aerospace summit... Subtle.
Lockheed Martin test pilot Billie Flynn equates war with playtime, stating that:
“The next time we go to war … you will not be allowed to play unless you have the same capability as everyone else,”If war is a game that requires expensive new hardware, maybe we shouldn't want to play. We already have hockey.
Despite initially disqualifying the F-35 on the basis of cost, South Korea decides it really wants the stealth fighter anyway. Instead of the 60 jets planned under the F-X III program, South Korea will instead make do with 40, cutting numbers by a full third.
Saab and Boeing officially announce their collaboration on an all new aircraft design to compete in the USAF's upcoming T-X trainer program. Could this be a way to develop a truly affordable 5th generation fighter?
One year after the fighter jet reset, Canada seems no closer to deciding on a new fighter jet to replace the aging CF-18. News media seems more wrapped up in Senate scandals and crackhead mayors. Elsewhere, the F-35 is seeing a few minor victories overshadowed by the danger faced by the program thanks to the looming US debt crisis. It's becoming increasingly doubtful that Canada will be able to procure 65 F-35s for under $9 billion between the years 2020 and 2025. Costs are still high, and further delays to the program seem likely.
Other fighters, like the Typhoon and Super Hornet, see some promising future upgrades come to light.
Meanwhile, potential rivals like the Russian PAK FA and Chinese J-20 look like they might be superior to the F-35 and closer to the more expensive F-22.
What will the next year bring? Only time will tell.