F35 Joint Strike Fighter – Revisited

F-35C on Test Flight
F-35C on Test Flight – from Wikipedia

On November 2, 2010 I wrote F35 Joint Strike Fighter – The Biggest Procurement Mistake Ever. The conclusions I drew at the time weren’t rocket science. They were based on simple basic economics, and Canada’s long term military requirements as they’ve existed since the Second World War.

The Economics of Military Procurement

Military procurement issues when buying major hardware are a bit more complex than buying a new car. There are a number of considerations:

  1. Alliances – military hardware is often purchased from a major ally solely to keep that ally happy, even if the hardware isn’t totally suitable.
  2. Secrets – military hardware often includes secret developments, and is sold with the promise that it will not be resold, or even shown to potential enemies of the producing country.
  3. Volumes – military hardware is produced in limited volumes, it isn’t something that the local boys take to the Beer Store to pick up a 2-4, so prices are high.
  4. Prices – military hardware is expensive because of the low production volumes, and the necessity to produce and maintain it under secretive conditions.

Yes, three and four sounds like, because the two are interlinked. Low volume always indicates high prices, and high prices generally leads to low volumes.

The above was written in April 2012. Then things got busy, and I never got around to finishing the article. What I didn’t know at the time, was that a group had approached the Canadian Forces about resurrecting the Avro Arrow for the 21st Century.

There are four important factors behind the bid to resurrect the Arrow.

1) Keeping money in Canada.

2) Building the Canadian aviation industry.

3) Producing a fighter suitable for Canadian conditions.

4) Having a larger number of aircraft available.

The last two are probably the most important. The F-35 Lightning is an incredibly expensive aircraft. Originally it was supposed to be a lower cost replacement for the F-22 Raptor, however costs have increased so much that it would be cheaper to bring the Raptor back into production, and build the plane in quantity.

Canada budgeted for sixty-five F-35 Lightnings. For the same cost, we could buy one hundred New Avro Arrows, and get a plane that is faster, longer ranged, and safer. The F-35 has a single engine, the Arrow has two engines, meaning that the Arrow can loose an engine and still make it back to base, and the F-35 can’t. This makes the F-35 unsuitable for Canadian conditions, because we need to patrol vast stretches of country where there are no suitable landing fields for high performance military aircraft.

The F-35 does have stealth features. Some of them could be implemented in an updated Arrow, much like the F-111 Aardvark, which was retrofitted with a variety of radar reflection reduction technologies, as these technologies were developed. For that matter the original Arrow did include stealth features. The large weapons bay was designed so that the plane didn’t need to carry weapons on external pylons, one of the main features of both the F-22 Raptor and the F-35 Lightning…

But does Canada need a stealth fighter? That depends on who we are fighting. If we are fighting the United States, the answer is unequivocally yes. If we are fighting the British, the French, the Russians, or the Germans, we need a stealth fighter.

But we aren’t going to be fighting any of those countries. Instead we’ll be doing sovereignty patrols, and possibly helping countries like Libya, in which case what we need is a fast, high altitude, long range aircraft, and that’s what the Arrow is.

For those who like playing with figures, feel free to download this spreadsheet, which contains information on a variety of combat aircraft:



Wayne Borean

Saturday October 20, 2012


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