<– A Canadian-made interceptor would serve our interests better than the troubled F-35 program, writes Major Lewis Mackenzie.
By Major Lewis MacKenzie, Ottawa Citizen
The tsunami of justified criticism of the proposed buy of 65 F-35 jets from a U.S. company to fill a multitude of Royal Canadian Air Force requirements demands an objective look at other options.
What if there was an aircraft that was significantly faster, flew higher and cost half as much in today’s dollars as the F-35? And would the fact it was built and flew in 1958-’59 here in Canada not raise some suspicions regarding the exorbitant price of the proposed F-35 replacement for the CF-18 fleet?
Yes, I’m referring to the tested C-105 Mk 1 Avro Arrow and the designed Mk 2 version that were 50 years plus ahead of their time in 1959 (note to reader — this is not a satirical piece) and the victims of U.S. political pressure on the prime minister of the day who was convinced that U.S. anti-air missiles would be a better solution to North American air defence. Not revealed at the time was the fact that the U.S. did not want the world’s most advance armed interceptor made in Canada cruising around at the same altitudes as the U.S.’s unarmed U-2 spy plane. Result? The Arrows were cut to pieces and consigned to the garbage heap. All documentation, plans, test results, flight records etc. were destroyed — or so most thought.
What if the original Arrow design was upgraded, taking advantage of 21st-century materials and technology? What if the result was an Mk 3 Arrow flying 20,000 feet higher than the F-35 and seeing it disappear in the rear view mirror as the new Arrow hits twice, yes, twice the speed — Mach 3.5 as opposed to the pedestrian F-35 at Mach 1.67? The F-35 is surprisingly incapable of supercruise, that being the capability to fly supersonic speed with a full weapons load without afterburners, thereby dramatically reducing the aircraft’s range, already some 800 kilometres less than the proposed Mk 3 Arrow and over 3,000 kilometres less than the proposed Mk 4 version. Considering the size of our second-largest country in the world, not a bad advantage.
A detailed feasibility plan regarding the production of such an aircraft in Canada has been in the government’s hands for over a year now. It has been seen by the Prime Minister’s Office, the offices of the minister of national defence, the associate minister of national defence, the assistant deputy minister (material) and the newly appointed chief of the defence staff while he was deputy commander of NORAD. Recently, a reply was received indicating that Canada would be incapable of producing such an aircraft with the technology needed in the time available. Other than the shock of reading such an admission regarding our nation’s alleged technical inferiority, the letter’s focus on the usual and tiresome pushback talking points, like the overwhelming need for stealth to be incorporated in the initial design stage, was disappointing, particularly considering the F-35’s lack of stealth. The capability to detect stealth aircraft is developing much more rapidly than stealth itself. In the case of the F-35, its stealth is designed to defeat short-range, ground-based radars defending ground targets. From the sides and above, and when weapons are added, critics say the stealth capability would be compromised.
While the F-35 carries the “F” for fighter it would be more accurately described as an A-35, the “A” standing for the attack role, its primary strength. But this role is assumed more and more in every conflict by cruise missiles, particularly during first strike takedown of enemy air defences. It should be noted that Canada has participated in three wars in the past 32 years, Gulf War One, Serbia/Kosovo and Libya, without one CF-18 scratching its paint let alone being hit by enemy fire. Not bad for an aircraft described as obsolete.
Unfortunately, the F-35 is ill-suited as a sovereignty interceptor responsible for dominating our airspace. It couldn’t catch most of the existing modern aircraft from the countries that might test our defences, and its on-station time at the northern limits of our airspace would be measured in minutes. If an F-35 pilot needs to eject, he or she would be found under a parachute in the Arctic. The upgraded Mk 3 Arrow with its twin engines has a parachute-lowered capsule with survivability capability for the two-person crew.
In 1959, plans for the Arrow were ordered destroyed along with the aircraft, but they were not. They exist, thanks to the ingenuity and dedication of a number of our fellow Canadians who smuggled them out before they could be incinerated.
I am not part of the organization behind this plan. I am however a patriot who finds the F-35 badly flawed as an all singing, all dancing replacement for the F-18. Unfortunately all the compromises built into its design dictate that it does no role particularly well.
The government has appointed an “independent” committee, the National Fighter Procurement Secretariat, to advise on the F-18 replacement. But it appears that behind closed doors a deal has been made with the U.S. that Canada will purchase the F-35 in spite of the fact that the justification for such a decision becomes weaker by the day. If that is the case then buy a baker’s dozen of them for expeditionary duty to keep the U.S. semi-happy, but fill Canadian skies with a much more capable aircraft for half the price.
Critics of this author will opine, “What does a retired Infantry general know about fighter aircraft?”
I can only remind them that a significant number of gynaecologists are men and to the best of my knowledge not one of them has ever given birth.
Retired general Lewis MacKenzie served on nine UN peacekeeping missions and commanded two of them.