Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Poll: little support for new fighter jets

Canadians don’t share Harper’s zest for fighter jets, debt reduction, poll shows
Sixty-eight per cent of Canadians agreed that “now is not a good time” to proceed with the $16-billion purchase of the F-35 fighter aircraft to replace the aging fleet of CF-18 fighters, four of which were in action over Libya on Monday as part of a United Nations-sanctioned effort to contain strongman Moammar Gadhafi.

Even a majority (56 per cent) of voters who identified themselves as Conservative supporters oppose the acquisition. And three out of four undecided voters are opposed.

Only 27 per cent of those surveyed thought the federal government should “purchase now to prepare for the future.”
Note that the Parliamentary Budget Office puts the cost at $30 billion, not $16 billion.

In a 2003 post, Bruce Rolston suggested that the air force should focus on transport rather than fighter jets.
Buying the F-35, in most estimates, would be the ONLY major CF procurement program for a decade if it went through, under the current budget. Everything else would have to wait. The question Canadians have to ask is which gives them more influence in the circles they want to be in... a couple squadrons of attack jets, or a couple battalions of peacekeepers. Because the choice is really coming down to an either/or at this point... modern aircraft just cost too much. I think it's clear I think the latter gives our political leaders more flexibility for changing circumstances than the former. But not everyone agrees, obviously.

The comparator in this case to my mind is New Zealand, who realized a few years ago that, situated as we are, far from the action, replacing their fleet of obsolescent Skyhawks, and the distortion that purchase would make to the rest of their defence budget, was simply not cost-effective. The RNZAF now has no combat aircraft at all. They realized, as even defenders of the CF-18 must concede, that they can never comprise much more than a few extra airframes and trained pilots for some other, larger air effort by a superpower, relying on others for basing, weapons loadouts, fighter and early warning cover, reconnaissance, etc. etc., and even collectively capable of little more damage by themselves than a single B-1 bomber. In any conceivable circumstance, Canada's fighters can only be something of a flag-waving exercise. In 5-10 years, our CF-18s will be as obsolete as those Skyhawks were, so maybe it's time to close this chapter of our history.

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