Archive for category F-35

Canada to go for drones? Maybe armed ones?

Two Canadian academics have suggested drones as a partial alternative to Canada’s purchase of F-35 jets. Their article in the Canadian Foreign Policy Journal was summarised in a press release from Steven Staples of the Rideau Institute.

Calling Canada’s participation in the floundering F-35 programme an ‘expensive mistake’, Michael Byers and Stuart Webb called on Canada to drop out of the F-35 programme. Instead Canada should keep its F-18 fighters going a few years longer and then acquire a ‘mixed’ range of aircraft that would include drones.

There has been a lot of opposition to the grandiose F-35 project for many reasons, including the impracticability of the F-35 for monitoring and protecting Canada’s arctic. Among the partial alternatives that have been proposed in the past were fleets of drones stationed at various airports across the arctic.

The Canadian military has been remarkably restrained in its use of drones. Unlike other countries that have moved quickly to acquire drones and build domestic drone manufacturing programmes, Canada has moved slowly. Although Canada used drones during its participation in NATO’s occupation of Afghanistan, there isn’t any evidence that it engaged in targetted assassinations that have become a hallmark of the American and British efforts. Nor is it known to have violated Pakistani airspace.

Canada’s recent experience in Afghanistan involved leasing of Israeli drones through their Canadian representative MacDonald Dettwiler. It has since returned them to the vendor Macdonald Dettwiler, IAI’s Canadian associate.This seemed to be a much cheaper alternative than purchasing drones, although I haven’t spotted any public evaluation of the programme.

Recently MacDonald Dettwiler has been advertising that it provides privately operated drone surveillance services from its base in Kandahar Afghanistan. It offers drone surveillance paid for by the hour. Online photos show a Heron drone; it isn’t clear whether Heron TPs or other surveillance aircraft are available. MDA is using testimonial videos from Canadian and Australian military on its web site.

Canadian forces in Afghanistan also used a variety of smaller surveillance drones.The Canadian military has used small Scaneagle drones, leased from Boeing, in Afghanistan and more recently on its ships.

The Canadian government has had several programmes to investigate the use of MALE (Medium Altitude Long Endurance) drones by the military, the JUSTAS programme, Joint Airborne ISR Capatility (JAIC), and  Project Noctua. These appear to be ‘acquisition’ programmes. Apparently the JUSTAS programme is still in progress, and may be considering a wider range of drones than just the ‘MALE’ class. There isn’t evidence of a solid intention for the Canadian government to promote a domestic drones production industry.

It is worth speculating about where Canada will go in the future with respect to drones. There also seems to be a trend toward HALE drones (High Altitude Long Endurance) represented by such drones as Israeli Hermes 900, and Heron TP drones, as well as Predator variants from the US.

Several countries have developed and used armed drones. A couple of years ago Canadian Defence Minister Peter MacKay refused to rule out Canada acquiring armed drones, though he acknowledged that arming Canada’s surveillance drones at that time would create ‘contractual issues’. He wasn’t asked whether he would ask private drone contractors to manage the deployment and operation of armed drones capable of attacking adversaries directly.

It isn’t difficult to predict the broad intentions of Canada’s neoconservative government. An interview by Defence Minster Peter MacKay on CBC suggested his government wants a ‘long term’ solution to drones, ‘yet to be worked out’. That was in 2008. In November 2011, the militarist MacKay stated on  that “The capability of drones goes up exponentially when you arm them like a fighter jet”. However he indicated that no decision had been made to go ahead with a major drone purchase. However also reported that Canada Public Works had put contractors on notice that if Project JUSTAS was approved Canada would spend up to a billion dollars on drones, including attack drones, although they did not reference a current source.

Will the Canadian government continue its love affair with Israeli technology? Will it continue to support drones used by the Israeli state, which are ‘battle tested’ in the occupation of the West Bank? Will they continue to lease ‘off the shelf’ drones where required? Once freed from the F-35 albatross, will they seek to acquire armed drone capacity, like their American, British, and Israeli friends?

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F-35 could be undoing of Canadian Conservatives

Canada’s recent foray into Libya demonstrates Harper government’s willingness to use violence to deal with international situations, even in contexts that have little relevance to Canada. In light of this it is unsurprising that Canada has been so loyal to the floundering F-35 jet project. The F-35 has little value in defending Canadian territory from incursions, but is a glitzy way for Canada’s neoconservative government to keep up with the Joneses (or the Bushes).

Geoffrey Stevens has written a short critique of Canada’s F-35 purchase in Straight Goods.

The F-35 could be a disaster for the Conservatives. If the F-35 turns out to be a successful project and a ‘useful’ war machine, the Conservatives will have to have stayed with the project to gain any political benefits from it. If they pull the plug too early they risk missing out on a good thing and losing the confidence of their hard core right wing supporters.

More likely however the project is either going to collapse, or to underperform. In this case the Conservatives lose both ways. If it collapses they will be criticised for staying loyal to a project with such a low liklihood of success, and wasting so much money on its development. If it goes ahead, they will be stuck with a project that is not fit for the purpose it was sold to the Canadian public with, and which will cost billions more to make suitable. Billions of dollars will have been diverted from more useful projects.

Even if the Conservatives stick with the F-35 project and the project goes ahead, they will need to continue to convince Canadians that Canada’s role in the world is to  help the US and the UK enforce regime change in various parts of the world.

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Canada’s new F-35s may not be very useful in the Arctic

The Canadian Press has reported that Canada’s new F-35 jets will be delivered without the ability to communicate from Canada’s arctic.

Defense officials are scrambling to figure out how they can add the cabability to the new fighters, which are less capable than the F-18s they will be replacing.

Without advanced technology for communication, the F-35s will be severely hampered in their ability to patrol and defend Canada’s arctic sovereignty, which was one of the major points that this project was sold on.

Does this mean that the Harper government missed the boat when it came to purchasing the plane, or was the arctic patrol mission simply a ruse to sell the new fighters to a skeptical public. Certainly the government has been more interested in fighting overseas military interventions than the boring  job of patrolling the arctic.

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Pentagon to Have Veto Over Use of Canadian Fighters?

It appears that the Pentagon will retain control over flight codes and key software that controls the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter that Canada is in the process of purchasing.

In theory, this would make it possible for outside forces in the US military to navigate Canada’s F-35s, stop them from flying, control their targeting systems and probably many other functions.

Thus, a large portion of our sovereignty over these jets would be compromised. Canada would not be able to count on its ability to use these jets in any situation disapproved of by the US. Canada would be unable to participate in any multilateral strike force in which the US disapproved.

In the Falklands War, the US considered alllying itself with the Argentinian junta. Though it is inconceivable that it would have gone to war with the UK it is very possible that it might have interfered with the UK force tasked with liberating the Falklands. If this situation was happening in the present, and Canada was helping our ally the UK, it is possible that both countries would lose their ability to use their own Joint Strike Fighters.

While it is difficult at present to conjure a situation in which Canada would be defying US policy in its use of jet fighters, over the long lifespan of these jets there may be situations that we cannot even imagine now.

Given the current turmoil in the US government, it isn’t completely possible to predict US behaviour in the future, and we have only to remember the recent US war on Iraq to realise that there are many parties in the US government that can operate almost independently of the US government and are difficult to manage coherently. Our ability to manage our own sovereignty may rely on the machinations of the increasingly irrational American political machinery.

Perhaps the only thing worse than having overpriced weapons you don’t need is having them actually under the control of someone else.

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Canada Lacks Sovereignty in F-35 Purchase

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 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.

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F-35 Crisis As Turkey Wants Codes

Turkey may back out of the F-35 project because it is being assessed a share of the rising costs, and because it is becoming clear that the US Pentagon will not be sharing ‘flight codes’ and critical software relating to the jets. This leads to the possibility that someone could block the use of the jets, outside of Turkey’s control.

According to, Turkey plans to buy about 100 of the jets. But without source codes and control of the software it would be possible for outside sources to control the jets. According to Turkish sources, Turkey is worried that the US, or one of its key allies like Israel, might be able to block use of Turkey’s own jets if there was disagreement about a mission that Turkey might have. The US would have the power over what planes are designated as enemies, and thus the US would have the power to shut down the plane if Turkey had a third party conflict with a country that was a friend of the US.

The source claims that the UK is considering withdrawing from the project for the same reason.

Total cost of the project to Turkey is said to be $16 Billion.

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Canada’s F-35 Purchase: Update

Two excellent articles, published on by David Publiese relating to the background of the F-35 purchase announcement by the Canadian government. One more to come.

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F-35 Fossil Fuel Guzzlers Will Never Fly

Robertjb, in, writes that the F-35 may never fly.

That’s because the US has realised, (or at least the pragmatic elements of the military has), that the US military much completely transform to using non petroleum fuels by 2040. That would dramatically shorten the shelf life of the F-35, making the F-35 progamme ill advised.

For some additional discussion of the effect of oil shortages on the military, see (Source) (Source) (Source)

From an unoffical source, the F-35 carries about 12 tonnes of fuel. Or according to Wikipedia 8.4 tonnes.

Defence Today notes that a “single sortie unrefuelled for an F/A-18, F-111 or F-35 typically requires a cruise fuel burn of around 6,000 to 7,000 lb/hr. Or about 2.7 tonnes to 3.2 tonnes/hour.

Clearly F-35’s need very frequent mid air refueling, which means that the consumption of the refueling airplane needs to be added to it. Or they must fly very short sorties.

As oil becomes in short supply, and prices rise, it will become increasingly difficult to finance an F-35 fleet.

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