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A Canadian Forces pilot has his picture taken in front of a F-35 Joint Strike Fighter model prior to a procurement announcement in Ottawa on July 16, 2010. (Adrian Wyld/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
A Canadian Forces pilot has his picture taken in front of a F-35 Joint Strike Fighter model prior to a procurement announcement in Ottawa on July 16, 2010. (Adrian Wyld/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Defence expert decries purchase of 'shock-and-awe' fighter jets Add to ...

Canada doesn't need the aggressive capbilities of next-generation stealth fighters and taxpayers shouldn't be forced to fork over $16-billion to buy them, a senior defence analyst says.

In a stinging indictment of the Harper government's plans to buy 65 F-35 jets, the Rideau Institute's Steven Staples argued Thursday that the Defence department should not proceed with the purchase. He called on the government to slow down, stretch the life of the existing CF-18 fighter jets and investigate the use of cheaper pilot-less drone, adding the money saved could then be used to contribute to global security.

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"Let's be clear about what this plane has been developed for. It is a first-strike, shock-and-awe fighter bomber," Mr. Staples told an Ottawa news conference. "It is designed to be in the first wave of aircraft, screaming over the beaches to bomb cities and military bases on the first night of a war. It's shock and awe."

Suggesting the F-35 isn't appropriately designed for Arctic surveillance, he added: "Canada will never need this requirement."

Mr. Staples, who released a study co-sponsored by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, emphasized that the government has lots of time to review this purchase. In fact, he said that so far the Harper government has only bought a "model plane" - none of the jets have even been built yet.

The fighter jet purchase has been a controversial issue since the Conservative government announced in July that it was planning to buy the planes to replace the military's CF-18 fleet, beginning in 2016. It has been especially contentious because the contract was sole-sourced and not put up for competition.

Michael Ignatieff's Liberals have also called for the government to slow down. They posed a series of questions Thursday that they want the Conservatives to answer before they will support the government's purchase.

» "What are the defence priorities and the domestic and foreign mission requirements that our new fighter jets must be able to support?

» "What are the roles, capabilities and operational performance requirements that any new fighter must be able to meet in order to support these future domestic and international priorities and missions?"

» "What evidence does the government have to demonstrate that their deal gets the right equipment for our Air Force while achieving the following: a) the lowest cost and best value for taxpayer dollars, with controls to prevent cost escalation; and b) guaranteed regional benefits with a transfer of intellectual property to grow the Canadian aerospace industry, including in-service support?"

If the Conservatives do not answer the questions, industry critic Marc Garneau, a former naval officer and astronaut, says the Liberals would recommend the purchase be scrapped and an open competition will be held.

Mr. Staples, meanwhile, said Canadians need to change the way they think about their aircraft. "We don't need them for bombing missions and there is no real Russian bomber threat. And there are new technologies emerging, coming down the road, in development now, that could save us a lot of money for domestic surveillance and control."

His reports also debunks the government's contention that there will be $12-billion industrial benefits. "The F-35 program contains none of the spelled-out 'offsets' that are typically built into large military procurement projects, and thus claims of future economic benefits are based on little more than hope," Mr. Staples writes.

The government, however, argues the jets are essential to the protection of Canadian sovereignty. "The F-35 will allow us to see threats before they see us," Defence Minister Peter MacKay said in June. "The stealth capability makes it the right aircraft, not only on the existing threats, but what may come."

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