Monday, July 19, 2010
So we have a sole sourced military contract for 65 of the F35 Jet fighter proposed by the Conservatives being opposed by the Liberals as it “to much of a Cadillac” are you getting that feeling that you been here before? That’s because we are doing a repeat of the Cormorant Helicopter fiasco again, this time with a slight twist.
You see the Liberals first hooked us to this horse way back in 2002. The idea was that all the countries involved would all share in the R&D and we would all get some of the contracts. Now being good Liberals I fully believe they never intended on buying anything and likely hoped they could just keep stalling while reaping the benefits of the contracts. Of course the Liberals also thought they would still be in power, because like they are the Natural governing party of Canada, right?
Now part of the complaint is that Conservative government is “sole-sourcing” the bid, in other words following through on the Liberal commitment since they must have done a lot of research prior to selecting this process, right? The idea of competitive bids is nice, the problem is execution. Most large defence related bids have as much or more to do with politics than with picking the right piece of equipment for the job. Most foreign companies hook up with a Canadian company to sweeten the bid and it helps if the Canadian company is right place for the maximum political gain. This is the way it works in most Western countries and why the bid process consistently fails to deliver on time, on budget and with a properly working piece of kit. The political aspect ends up mucking up the deal almost every time.
Another wrinkle in this story is that the F35 is a 5th generation fighter, there are just not that many options out there, so the only real question is do we want or need a 5th generation fighter. There are lots of very knowledgeable people arguing about this point and good arguments on both sides. My gut tells me that we should get around 40 of the F35’s and about 40 of the somewhat cheaper 4.5 Generation fighters like the Super Hornet or Silent Eagle, I suspect we could get around 80 fighters for about the same amount of money. Why do we need more, because we will lose some to training accidents and possibly combat. Also the cheaper fighters will still be able to take on anything we are likely to go against today and the F35’s cover off the unexpected threats that will show up.
Yes it is a lot of money, which is a great object lesson in making sure you spread your defence buying over many years and not letting all of your equipment rust out at the same time.