April 24, 2011

Expensive Killing Machines

The Harper government clings to the claim that Canada can purchase F‑35 fighter jets for $75 million each. But defence analysts agree that this number is bogus, and does not include the cost of parts, weaponry, and decades of maintenance.

When the F-35 purchase plan was announced in 2008, the Harper government said the total price tag for 80 jets was in the $9 billion range. By last year, that jumped to $16 billion for 65 jets. More recently, Pentagon experts have estimated that the total costs of the program could hit $29 billion over 30 years.

Speaking on April 5, Winslow Wheeler, of the Centre for Defence Information in Washington, told a press conference on Parliament Hill that “nobody on this earth” is going to end up paying $75 million per jet. The cost will be more like $148 million, he said.

“This airplane is nothing to write home about,” Wheeler told an event organized by the Rideau Institute. Even if the F-35s end up performing “as advertised”, he warned, the model is still “a gigantic performance disappointment…. You’re getting an underperforming airplane for a huge amount of money.”

The planes are still being manufactured and tested, and will have to go back to the factory for upgrades and fixes that will add to the final cost, said Wheeler, who worked for more than thirty years for Republican and Democratic senators and for the U.S. General Accounting Office.

While the opposition parties argue that the purchase should involve an open bidding process, their position ignores the real problem: the fighter jets have only one purpose. Built by the U.S. transnational McDonnell-Douglas, these are not “defensive” weapons, and they are completely unsuited for search and rescue operations.

With its large payload capability, the F‑35 can carry far more weapons than the C‑18 fighters they will replace. According to Wikipedia, the F‑35 comes with a wide range of deadly armament: the GAU‑22/A four‑barrel 25mm cannon (400 rounds); up to two air‑to‑air missiles and two air‑to‑air or air‑to‑ground weapons; two 1,000 lb. bombs; a maximum of eight Small Diameter Bombs; Brimstone anti-armor missiles; and cluster bombs. At the expense of being more detectable by radar, many more missiles, bombs and fuel tanks can be attached on four wing pylons and two near wingtip positions. Solid‑state lasers are being developed as optional weapons for the F‑35.

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