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Analyst says we don't need pricey jets

Urges using existing fleet, drones

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OTTAWA -- The government should cancel plans to spend $9 billion on a new fleet of F-35 fighter jets because they are not necessary, defence policy analyst Steven Staples says in a paper published Thursday.

Staples says the government should extend the life of its current fleet of newly refurbished CF-18 fighters by confining them to domestic-surveillance and interception roles and consider replacing many of them in the long run with much cheaper pilotless drones.

The president of the Rideau Institute, an independent, non-partisan defence and foreign policy think-tank, weighed in on what he called the government's "fundamentally flawed decision" to buy F-35s in a paper published Thursday by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

Staples says it's time Canadians change how they think about fighter aircraft. He says Canada doesn't need them for bombing missions and can contribute to other aspects of overseas military operations as it now does in Afghanistan.

"There is no Russian bomber threat (in Canada) and there are new technologies emerging that could save us a lot of money for domestic surveillance and control, like intercepts," he said.

While the Conservative government has been fiercely defending its plan to purchase 65 Lockheed-Martin F-35 aircraft for $9 billion in 2016, the official Opposition Liberals say they would put the plan on hold and host a competition for replacements for Canada's CF-18s.

"The sole-source nature of the contract and its expected cost have been widely -- and appropriately -- criticized," Staples said, adding costs of operating the fleet could skyrocket over time.

He rebutted the government's argument that the purchase will provide huge industrial benefits to Canada as companies will get access to supply contracts on F-35 planes sold around the world. "The expenditure of $16 billion on virtually any government program, such as commercial aircraft or light rail systems, would provide similar or greater benefits to the Canadian economy," he said. "Such 'benefits' do not create a justification for buying an aircraft that we do not otherwise need."

Staples asserts Canada does not need fighters for military operations overseas and the lifespan of the current CF-18 planes may be extended by a decade by restricting their work to North American surveillance.

Noting that the United States patrols the Canada-U.S. border with drones, he recommends the government investigate the acquisition of unarmed long-range, pilotless aircraft for domestic and coastal surveillance, search and rescue and surveillance on overseas missions.

While the government has boasted that Canada would be protected from future price increases of the F-35s by locking into a contract price of about $9 billion, Staples said the $7 billion estimated cost of support and maintenance is not locked in and could rise. A number of other aircraft and/or drones could be purchased at lower cost, he said.


-- Postmedia News


Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 14, 2010 A10

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