Monday, December 13, 2010

F-35 Contract May be Big Trouble for the Harper Government

In February of this year, there was a debate over the F-35 fighter jets in the United States, the same jets that the Harper government is buying.
The Joint Strike Fighter was supposed to be the program that broke the mold, proof that the Pentagon could build something affordable, dependable and without much drama. But rather than being the Chevrolet of the skies, as it was once billed, the fighter plane, also called the F-35, has turned into the Pentagon’s biggest budget-buster.

And with worries growing that the rise in costs could overwhelm other programs, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates fired the general in charge this week and said he would withhold $614 million in fees from the prime contractor, Lockheed Martin.
This could have been devastating for Lockheed Martin. They had a lot riding on these planes, going into full production before the completion of tests.

But Harper to the rescue.

He'd take some of those puppies off their hands. Who needed testing? They were shiny.
On July 16, Defence Minister Peter MacKay stood in front a life-size model of a fighter plane and announced the biggest military purchase in Canada's history. "The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is the best aircraft we can provide our men and women in uniform to face and defeat the challenges of the 21st century," he said. Canada had signed a multi-billion-dollar deal for 65 planes.
Naturally the opposition was concerned. We were broke. We couldn't afford them.
Soon enough, the NDP and Liberals were asking questions. Opposition MPs charged that it was fiscally irresponsible of the Conservative government to spend billions of dollars on stealth aircraft while the country's deficit ballooned. "We're in the middle of a $54-billion deficit and we're just about to do $6 billion in corporate tax cuts," Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff told journalists. "So they're buying their giant strike fighter, or they want to buy it, on borrowed money. We think that's crazy."

The opposition also raised questions about the lack of competition in the F-35 deal. In less than a month, defence analysts noted a shift in the national mood. Although news coverage was found to be "neutral and fact-based," there was a negative tone to commentaries and editorials, according to DND documents obtained by the Ottawa Citizen.
The planes are noisy, there have been fatigue cracks due to design changes and American citizens are expressing their concerns.

But the Harper government is still trying to shove them down our throats.
Canada's purchase of 65 Joint Strike Fighters is the largest military purchase in its history. It is also one of the most controversial. The deal was done without competition or even testing the aircraft against other contenders.

The government doesn't yet know the full costs of the fighter aircraft program. The Joint Strike Fighter -- or JSF -- is still being tested and has yet to enter into service with any military. The Harper government estimates $14 billion. One Defence Department calculation suggests it's closer to $21 billion. Unlike other military equipment purchases -- where stipulations ensure Canadian firms receive work that equals or exceeds the money spent -- the JSF deal contains no guarantees. Auditor General Sheila Fraser says it's a risky project.
We don't need those planes. We don't want those planes. So Harper will make sure that we have those planes.

Same old, same old.