Liberal incompetence on national defence is nothing new—it’s been pointed out to them for more than a decade.
Former Chief of the Defence Staff General Rick Hillier perhaps put it best when he referred to the 1990s as the “decade of darkness.” In that decade, everything was subject to budget cuts. The military was starved for support. Despite this, demand on the military only grew as operations abroad rose sharply.
Thankfully, that decade of Liberal darkness is over. You’d think the Liberals would have wised up to proper security policy and learned a thing or two about national defence. They haven’t. The entire Liberal caucus is up in arms over a government contract to purchase 65 new F35 Joint Strike Fighters. Complaints about the deal have come from all directions, and argue three basic points: the F35 isn’t the right fighter for Canada, the contract shouldn’t have been sole-sourced, and the planes are too expensive.
All of them are wrong.
The F35 is a fifth generation aircraft, one of the finest fighters we can produce. Fifth generation fighters are distinguished by an array of sensors and networks which allow them to share data between planes instantaneously. They consolidate this information with off-site data from connected networks and provide pilots with an unprecedented amount of tactical awareness. They also carry some of the finest stealth equipment money can buy; pilots can find few planes that are safer than the F35.
The Canada First Defence Strategy made it clear that Canada’s only option for replacing its aging fleet was a fifth generation fighter. Defence procurements are extremely long-term commitments, and we needed a vehicle that was going to be cutting-edge for a long time. The F35 is precisely that vehicle.
Contrary to Liberal fibbing on the issue, the F35 was subject to a competitive bid when it was originally conceived. Lockheed Martin won that bid, and developed the Joint Strike Fighter to the specifications of the nine countries who were participating in the program.
At a cost of $9 billion spread over the next 15 years, these 65 planes are a virtual steal. The cost has been pushed down because nine countries will participate in the acquisition; this collaborative approach has made the F35 extremely affordable for Canada.
But affordability is only part of the question. Canadians need to ask themselves: do we want the best military we can possibly have, or do we want to go back to the “decade of darkness?” Soldiers are gaining access to the equipment and technology they need not only to succeed on the battlefield, but to survive.
Michael Ignatieff has made it clear he will cancel the JSF contract if he becomes prime minister. He should be given a history lesson. Jean Chrétien did the same with a contract to replace Canada’s Sea King helicopters: he cancelled the deal upon entering office, costing Canadians $500 million and taking from the military the cutting-edge EH-101 helicopter.
But it seems the Liberals never learn from their mistakes. For the sake of all Canadians, I hope they never get a chance to repeat them.