Point: F-35 procurement allows Canadian air defence to enter the 21st century

On July 16, the government of Canada announced that it would be purchasing 65 new F-35A fighter jets from Lockheed Martin to replace Canada’s aging fleet of CF-18 hornets.

While critics raised concerns over their long-term $16 billion cost, and a perceived lack of a competitive bidding process, the purchase of these F-35s is the best long term choice for Canada to protect our airspace and to fulfill our North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) commitments.

The principle competitors to the F-35, the Eurofighter Typhoon and Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, do not possess the versatility or unique capabilities of the F-35.

The Super Hornet is a more advanced, stealth enhanced version of the F-18, the aircraft that Canada is currently using. However, its stealth capability is not as advanced as the F-35, which has a radar signature the size of a golf ball.

The other major available option for Canada is the Eurofighter, produced in co-operation between the UK, Spain, Germany and Italy. Unlike the Super Hornet, the Eurofighter is a modern aircraft that was first produced for Germany in 2003.

The Eurofighter, though, lacks a number of innovations available on the F-35 that are crucial for use in the Canadian climate. The modernized heads-up display shown to the pilot through their helmet allows pilots to be able to attack moving targets while in adverse weather conditions, and use its advanced sensors to allow it to accurately detect and defend against threats even at nighttime.

The F-35 also features a number of advanced reconnaissance systems over the Super Hornet and Eurofighter. These include cameras mounted across the aircraft that allow the pilot through their headset to see a 360 degree real-time view of their surroundings.

This is useful in Canada and abroad because it gives the pilot an opportunity to visually confirm a target and provides them with multiple methods of monitoring their surroundings.

As Canadians, we like to think that our aircraft will never need these capabilities.

However, the importance of having an advanced fighter aircraft for our national defense cannot be understated.

In May, CF-18 fighters were scrambled out of CFB Comox in response to a bomb threat on a Cathay Pacific passenger airline flying from Hong Kong to Vancouver. While the threat was later found to be a hoax, having the capability to quickly scramble our fighter jets is crucial.

The F-35 has a range of 2,200 kilometres, the ability to be refueled in flight and advanced tracking and detection systems that are highly accurate at night and in bad weather.

With these features, the F-35 is the best fighter jet available to Canada to be able to intercept, escort, and if necessary, provide lethal force to deal with a commercial airliner hijacking in Canadian airspace.

It also has the capacity to carry just over 900 kilogram of bombs internally, as well as air-to-air and cruise missiles, making it more than capable of fulfilling a wide range of duties within the Canadian Forces.

It’s not enough to purchase aircraft suitable only to the current actions Canada is undertaking, but to cover the wide spectrum of potential missions in the next 30 years.

If we do not upgrade our current jet fighters, or if we fail to predict our defence needs in the future, we will once again be relying on the United States for defence as the current set of CF-18’s are set to expire.

While the cost is large, it is a long-term investment. To not act now will be to saddle our Canadian Forces with outdated equipment and incur a larger cost in the long- run, similar to the scrapping of the Sea King helicopters by the past Liberal government.

A failure to upgrade our air force will compromise Canada’s sovereignty. It’s time for Canada’s air defence to enter the 21st century.