Let’s face it, the F-35 purchase program from the Harper government is one of the big triggers of Canada’s current election. Military appropriations is a very difficult issue south of the border as well, especially given the United States’ current debate over budget reductions. This contentious issue needs to be considered carefully, and I don’t think that military appropriations should be considered with the same “axe” that often guts other programs.
Both Canada and the United States maintain our levels of defense by waging a qualitative war; we have accepted that, in the pursuit of a professional, non-conscription based army, we will not outnumber our foes in any hypothetical conflict. As a result, our military expenditure per soldier is significantly higher than other nations. Canada spends around $191,000 per soldier per annum; the United States $236,000 per soldier, while a country like China spends approximately $21810 per soldier. We do this to ensure that the few can protect the many. We have to ensure the hardware that is deployed is better than what our likely foe deploys.
This means staying current. If we fight a war against a major foe, such as Russia or China, they will have current-generation fighters (5th generation fighters and 4++ generation fighters) that can match our fighters (the CF-18, a 4++ generation fighter). We don’t actually expect to fight Russia or China, but if we do, we will expect pilots to die fighting a foe capable of putting a qualitative match in the air. What the Canadian Forces has been used for over the past twenty years, however, isn’t fighting a qualitative equal – it’s fighting a second-or-third world ruler such as Qaddafi or Milosevic.
In this case, we are outnumbered, but we win because our fighters are better than their fighters and air defences. If we keep our current 4++ generation fighters, the people we are most likely to fight in 10, 15 years will start getting their hands on surplus 4++ generation craft from countries like Russia, China, and Pakistan. When we lose our qualitative advantage, we put our military’s ability to participate in international missions like the Libyan No-Fly Zone at risk; we lose a lot of our diplomatic clout, and most importantly, Canadians die.
There is also the fact that military hardware has to be replaced over time. I won’t deny that our Cold War-oriented military isn’t properly prepared for the combat tasks of today, and appropriations need to be altered to reflect this. But with the Liberals promising to scrap the F-35, the NDP talking about “re-evaluating” the process without mentioning alternatives, and the Bloq Quebecois not really being a federal party, I am reminded of the need for a Sea King replacement in the 1990s. This isn’t a pleasing reminder. Canada’s CH-124 Sea King helicopters were ordered in the 1950s and deployed in the 1960s and remain in current service with the Canadian Forces, despite being 48 years old and having exceeded their service life by almost double. Our Labrador helicopters also need replacement. Several of these two chopper types have crashed, and Canadian service personnel have died since the Jean Chretien government cut the early 1990s replacement program.
If you cut a program, you have to have a replacement, because people’s lives are riding on those hardwares. Sure. You don’t like the F-35 at $150 million a pop. There’s options out there – the F/A-18E Super Hornet at $55 million an airframe, or the Eurofighter Typhoon at $125 million an airframe. What the Liberals and NDP aren’t saying is that the CF-18 we currently fly is at the end of its lifespan. They’ve already started to crash and break up, and 9 Canadians have died in them. This number will increase if the replacement program is cancelled.
If you outright cancel the fighter replacement program, Canadians will die. Period.