[Former Canadian Prime Minister] Stephen Harper’s campaign to persuade Canadians of the merits of the Lockheed-Martin F-35A Joint Strike Fighter has been a stealthy one. But has he successfully evaded the BS-detector radar defences of the Canadian electorate?
1. A stealthy price?
Mr. Harper has told us—in that bored-Sunday-school-teacher tone of patient exasperation that seems to be his native accent—that the 65 F-35As he bargained for at a cost of just $75 million Canadian each are a “good deal” for this country.
But there are problems with that price-tag—a figure which, as defence journalist David Pugliese notes, “is nowhere to be found in official U.S. government reports on the aircraft.”
The US Government Accountability Office (GAO) “has warned about serious ongoing problems with the aircraft and rising costs,” and estimates “that the F-35 model that Canada is buying will cost between $110 to $115 million per plane.”
US Vice Admiral David Venlet, who heads the F-35 Joint Program Office, testified to a US congressional committee in March 2011 that his confident “procurement cost estimate” for the F-35A, the conventional take-off and landing model that Stephen Harper wants, is “$126.6 million (including $15 million for the engine).”
Winslow Wheeler, a former defence procurement analyst with the GAO and currently Director of the Straus Military Reform Project of the Washington, DC Center for Defense Information, warns that the F-35As, including their engines, will probably cost Canada “around $148 million” each.
Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff has proposed that the price per unit will amount to some $156-million US when a maintenance contract is included.
Steven Staples, President of the Rideau Institute and founder of Ceasefire.ca, noted in January 2011 that “Canadians are being asked to spend between $16 and $21 billion of public dollars in initial purchase and maintenance costs, according to Department of National Defence estimates, […] without a clear explanation of why [F-35s] are needed for our protection.” According to the Parliamentary Budget Officer, however, the DND estimates are misleading: the F-35 program’s full cost to Canada will be more like $29.3-billion, or $450-million for each plane over its planned lifetime.
Stephen Harper does indeed have supporters in this debate. Prominent among them is retired General Paul Manson, former Chief of the Defence Staff—who in January 2011 stealthily neglected to say, when he co-authored an Ottawa Citizen op-ed piece pushing the F-35 deal, that he is also a former Chairman of Lockheed Martin Canada, and a former member of the Board of that same company.
When he’s not in stealth mode, General Manson’s default posture seems to be bluster: his notion of refuting Winslow Wheeler’s critique of the F-35 deal is to denounce it as “a low-credibility rant by an American visitor from a left-wing Washington organization renowned for its anti-defence posture.” (That would be the Center for Defense Information, “an organization founded by retired American generals and admirals.”) (end of excerpt)
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