Revelations that Turkey is having second thoughts about its purchase of the F-35 should give pause to Canadians.
Turks are concerned that they will not have complete sovereignty over the jets they purchase because they lack control of the software that manages the jets, and the codes that make it possible to engineer changes. The Pentagon refuses to release key codes. Some of the earlier history of this controversy is outlined here.
Thus it is possible that outside sources, specifically the US, could take control of the navigation of the jets, stop them from flying, interfere with their target acquistion, if the US disagreed with an engagement that Turkey was involved in.
This makes Turkey’s foreign policy subservient to the interests of the US with respect to the use of this jet. If Turkey decided to use the F-35 to protect its borders from its Kurdish enemies in Iraq for example, this would only happen if the US decided to let them.
The same would be true of Canadian F-35’s. Essentially the US would have a veto over Canadian use of our own jets. While it is less likely that Canada will be defying strong US objections to a particular engagement, this still represents a loss of sovereignty.
The UK is said to be reconsidering participation in the F-35 project for the same reason. Perhaps they remember that in their war with Argentina in the Falklands, their ‘ally’ America considered taking sides with the Argentinian dictatorship which had invaded the Falklands. It would have been easy to tip the balance for Argentina simply by disallowing attacks on their forces by the UK’s F-35s (if they’d had them then).
The problem would be less serious for highly armed countries like the UK which are not reliant on one weapon system for their defence. If denied access to its only modern jet fighter, Canada would be very powerless, and vulnerable.
Tony Blair and George Bush minimised the controversy as quoted in DefenseManagement.com: saying that the UK would be able to “successfully operate, upgrade, employ and maintain the Joint Strike Fighter such that the UK retains operational sovereignty of the aircraft.” Details were scarce however on how that might be managed if the Pentagon refused to release the approriate software.