Demonstration by the Hamilton Stop the War Coalition in Burlington, ON, on January 8, 2023 as an event of the cross-Canada set of actions to protest the F-35 program. It disrupted MP Karina Gould, Minister of Families, Children and Social Development at her levee at the Art Gallery. [Photo by Graham Paine of the Burlington Post | TheSpec.com]
On January 9, 2023, three Canadian government ministers announced the signing of an agreement between Canada and the United States (US) government, Lockheed Martin and Pratt & Whitney for the acquisition of F-35 fighter jets for the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF). Those ministers were: Helena Jaczek, Minister of Public Services and Procurement, and Anita Anand, Minister of National Defence, François-Philippe Champagne, Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry.
This is the largest RCAF purchase in the past 30 years, with the purchase of 88 F-35 fighter jets for an initial price tag of $19 billion CAD, though critics warn that the cost will shoot up to $70 billion CAD through all stages of the acquisition. Questions about the cost to the public as well as those about the technical weaknesses of these jets has led to grassroots protests in Canada.
What is the F-35?
The case of the F-35 fighter jet exposes the senselessness of arms development and the influence of arms producers over the political leaders of the US and its imperialist allies these days. The F-35 is neither affordable nor practical, as it is part of the Canadian state’s objective of filling the pockets of war industry profiteers.
The F-35 is described as a fifth generation (5G) high tech, primary jet fighter for the US by 2070. The seeds of its inception were sown in the 90s (dubbed “Lightening II”; the first test flight of a prototype happened in 2006. There are three models: the F-35A for the US Air Force to replace the A-10 and F-16, which was deemed ready for use in 2016; the F-35B with vertical landing capacity for the US Marines to replace Harriers, which was deemed ready in 2015; and the F -35C to replace the carrier aircraft F-18 for the US Navy and US Marines, which was deemed ready by 2018.
The US F-35 Program selected Lockheed Martin manufacture the jet, who has partnered with Northrop Grumman and BAE systems. It demands that NATO partners acquire F-35s. NATO is a creation of Lockheed Martin, who likes the manufacturing of wars to increase production and sales of its war technology. Originally, there were eleven participants in this program (the F-35 program?): Canada, Australia, Denmark, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Turkey, the UK, Israel, Japan and South Korea. Other European states are jumping on the band wagon (Belgium, Finland and Germany, for example). There are three factories in Texas, Italy and Japan.
Defying all the research and advice to the contrary, European countries have been convinced that the F-35’s operational features make it worthwhile to buy. In December 2021, Finland declared its plan to acquire F-35s. Last December, Germany decided to get the same number of them for 8.7 billion USD. Germany must prepare an F-35 base in Büchel by 2027 to accommodate the new equipment. This money is coming out of a special state fund intended for the proxy war against Russia in Ukraine, paid by German taxpayers, which totals 107 billion USD; $14 billion USD of this $107 billion is tagged for Germany’s military enhancement. Its government signed a letter of acceptance of the US’ offer on behalf of Lockheed Martin to sell the jets on December 14, 2022. It will be replacing aging Tornado aircraft.
For its part, Belgium has similar plans and is currently upgrading two decades-old air bases to have them ready for F-35s by 2025. The upgrading cost is estimated at $692 million USD and will be completed by a Belgian-Dutch-US consortium.
In November of 2021, Denmark announced that it would be selling old F-16s, which the state has had since 1980) from 2022 to 2025 and replacing them with F-35s. It possesses 43 F-16s. The questions, “Who will get them and why?” are worrisome. Denmark intends to buy 35 F-35s, although maybe only half are in good enough usable condition for at least five years.
The Canadian Scenario
While Prime Minister, Stephen Harper (Conservative Party) created the Canadian F35 Program at the behest of the US government in 2010. Harper stalled any purchase in 2012 due to the price. As Liberal Party leader campaigning for the PM post, Justin Trudeau promised to scrap the program in 2015 by which time Canada had invested close to a million CAD into it. By 2014, 33 Canadian companies had $637m USD worth of contracts. After being elected to the seat of Prime Minister in 2016, Trudeau began reversing his decision. The plan is to eventually buy 88 F-35s for Canadian forces. Trudeau recently announced he would proceed with the purchase of 16 for $39 billion CAD soon. Citizens are reacting with more protests.
On January 9, 2023, the Trudeau government confirmed the creation of a Canadian F-35 program: : “Defense Minister Anita Anand announced Monday that Canada reached an agreement with the United States and F-35 maker Lockheed Martin to buy 88 of the aircraft at an estimated cost of $19 billion CAD.” Before that on December 22, 2022, the government granted official approval for the Ministry of Defense to proceed with buying 16 of the jets plus related gear to the tune of seven billion CAD. The Canadian government pushed back the date to begin acquisitions from 2026 to 2032, with the planes to be bought in blocks between now and 2032.
A ground crew member of the F-35A Lightning II fighter demonstration team works on a jet following its arrival at the airport Wednesday September 4, 2019 in Ottawa. The jet is part of a demonstration team in town for a weekend air show. [THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld] Of course, many activists went there to protest.
Burnaby, BC on January 6, 2023 – one of 20 actions across Canada from January 6 to 8 to oppose the Canadian government’s deal with Lockheed Marrtin to spend $17CD billion on 16 f-35 fighter jets. Demonstrators met outside the office of the leader of an opposition party, Member of Parliament Jagmeet Singh of the NDP, which fully supports the governing Liberal Party’s foreign relations and military policies. [CityNews Vancouver]
Aviation experts including present and former US Air Force and Naval officers and pilots oppose the development and acquisition of F-35 largely for technical reasons that make it unsafe, impractical and ineffectual. Scanning over the technical information, it can be inferred that the 5G technology that the F-35 should be fitted with does not yet fully exist. Though the aircraft can be flown, it is not yet fully deployed because it cannot yet do the jobs it was designed to do. In sum, its high tech is weighty and very complex; it requires 300,000 parts that must be acquired from 1500 international suppliers. Not only is it incredibly expensive, it requires more computer code than a space shuttle. Clients must find and assemble the digital technology themselves. They are not having much success, it appears.
Upon performing its annual review of the project, the Pentagon found 800 software defects. Defects were found in the two previous annual reviews.
The many problems clients and users are having with fitting the F-35s include the excess weight, which causes malfunctions and unreliability and makes retrofitting necessary. In 2013, retrofitting cost $1.7 billion USD. Parking and maintenance adds billions of dollars in costs, year by year. Thus, the actual cost over time far exceeds the initial purchase price. In 2017, the operating cost of an F-35A was $28,500 US per hour. The taxpayers in Canada, the US and Europe are expected to foot these bills.
Flying the F-35 with malfunctioning and unreliable add-ons is unsafe. It is meant to do first strike attacks. Other craft should continue the battle or assume defense. Deployed as it is designed to do, if properly equipped and running, the F-35 would lead with an attack then serve as the tactical center of a squadron during combat to gather, process and exchange data live with the engaged team.
Groups in the US are campaigning against the US F-35 program. For example, Codepink is leading a petition called “Ground the F-35”. A US coalition submitted letters to congress. In Canada, a peace network of 45 groups is actively opposed “Canada-Wide Peace and Justice Network”; as opponents have been doing in the US and Europe. Internationally, a coalition of around 220 organizations is engaging in activities to stop the F-35 program in places such as Kenya, Mexico, Paraguay, Switzerland, Germany and Spain.
The trillions that the US and its junior partners rob from working people to prepare for war against ‘enemy nations’ and enrich weapons manufacturers should be spent on building societies, not destroying them: education, environmental conservation, affordable housing, health and child care, and construction and maintenance of basic infrastructure such as roads and bridges.
Barbara Waldern is a peace activist residing in Metro Vancouver, BC, who spent 10 years working in South Korea.