PHOTOS: The F-35, possibly the worst military aircraft ever made, dollar for dollar or pound for pound, photographed to make it look less like a brick. A hovering version of the same plane. A not-quite-finished Mistral-class helicopter carrier.


I suppose a hotel in the desert, just down the block from the address where the scientists got off the bus to check in with the Manhattan Project starting in 1942, is an appropriate enough spot to muse about sophisticated weapons systems.

Lends a certain historical frisson, if not fission, to the discussion, don’t you think?

I don’t know what astounds me more, that Canada is still considering buying a $46-billion-plus fleet of F-35 “strike fighter” aircraft, a flying dog if ever there was one, or that we were secretly planning a bid on a rebranded helicopter carrier built to Russian specifications, for another couple of billion free-floating Canadian Loonies once the rust and dust have settled.

About these two completely ridiculous ideas, the first question we need to ask is “what for?”

Then there is the troubling spectacle of Thomas Mulcair, whose title at the moment is supposedly leader of the New Democratic Party, siding with Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper to assail Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau for stating the self-evident truth that the F-35 scheme is a stupendous waste of money and therefore deserves to go over the side immediately.

On any basis, the F-35 is the wrong military aircraft for Canada to buy. Arguably, it’s wrong strategically, since its main advantage according to its manufacturer is its supposed stealth capability, which makes it a great plane for regime change in tin-pot Third World dictatorships that only have aircraft older than, oh, 1970s vintage Soviet-built MIGs.

I suppose you could make a case that you could use F-35s to knock off a disreputable dictatorship like, say, the one in Syria … if only the Syrians weren’t being defended by a fleet of modern SU-27 fighter jets flown by their Russian friends which, not to be too gentle about it, could almost certainly eat any F-35 we bought at $600 million a pop for breakfast.

But if you want to make that case – and be my guest – there’s still the problem that the F-35 is, to put it in layperson’s terms, a really, really terrible aircraft. And that doesn’t include the aesthetic fact that in profile, it looks like a flying brick with one pointy end.

If you doubt me, just use your favourite search engine. Just now I searched “What’s wrong with the F-35?” on Google and received 363 million responses! I’m not making that up. Try it yourself.

This is a plane, Reuters reports, that “simply doesn’t work very well.” Last summer the U.S. Air Force grounded early versions because they were catching fire just sitting on the tarmac. The new jet, say the experts, “can’t turn, can’t climb, can’t run.”

Even the U.S. Defense Department doesn’t seem to really want this white flying elephant – it’s trimming its orders while it wishes the wretched aircraft would fly away. This, obviously, is going to make the per-unit cost go up so that, if we buy it, $44 million will seem like a bargain.

Oh, and that radar-evading stealth technology? It doesn’t work against radar the Chinese and the Syrians’ Russian friends have been developing that is designed to light up all stealth aircraft like the proverbial Christmas tree. So, also not included in the Canadian price tag will be the cost of jamming aircraft to make the slow, clumsy expensive F-35s invisible again, sort of.

And then there’s the matter of the Canadian dollar being worth 75 cents US and falling, thanks to Mr. Harper’s “energy superpower” strategy. This, presumably, will add another $11.5 billion to the cost of the project, raising it close to $60 billion.

Excuse me, Messrs. Harper and Mulcair? All this for a plane that doesn’t work properly? Gee, it sure sounds as if the principal purpose of this aircraft, perhaps the only purpose, is to keep its manufacturer, Lockheed-Martin, profitably in the air!

Turning to the French-built Mistral-class helicopter carriers, they sound like more of a bargain … than the F-35s. Again, though, we need to ponder the “what for?” question again.

The French built three of these helicopter carriers for themselves and were nearing completion of two more for the Russian Navy when the Ukraine crisis heated up last year with the Russian annexation of Crimea.

Amid the hoo-haw that followed, the French reneged on the deal and ended up facing repayment of $1.5 billion to the Russians – which the French lower house agreed to this month, and the French Senate will consider in a few days.

With the French now anxious to recoup the losses they face, an urgent effort to find a likely buyer for the ships was launched – and Canada was said to be high on the list until the news of the secret dealings leaked in the middle of an election campaign.

Officially designated “amphibious assault ships” (it’s the assaults, not the ships, that are supposed to be amphibious, by the way) the Mistral-class carriers are good for doing things like invading Third World countries, which the French have done a lot of since the Second World War.

But what use would Canada have for such a warship? Presumably Mr. Harper would like Canadian troops to be in the thick of an invasion or two – but where?

Syria? Crimea? Both are defended by capable Russian troops as it now happens, so, the prime minister’s fevered fantasies notwithstanding, neither now seems like a scenario likely of much success.

You could make a case that the Mistrals could also be useful for humanitarian missions, such as providing aid in disasters abroad and rescuing Canadian citizens from war zones, but it is likely there are much cheaper ways to accomplish such goals.

Never mind the cost of refitting the ships to, as they say, “come up to Canadian military standards,” whatever that means, the price of additional helicopters and the training of troops in amphibious assaults for what can only be called strategically unclear objectives will also be high.

Canada needs armed forces, and our armed forces need appropriate equipment for the missions Canadian soldiers, sailors and flyers are likely to face. On the face of it, it seems obvious our forces need modern transport aircraft and helicopters, effective ground-support fighters, coastal patrol vessels, new frigates or destroyers able to sail far from home, and Arctic-capable icebreakers.

Perhaps we could even use a helicopter carrier, although the case is far from being made and the cost is likely prohibitive.

However, without question – and Mr. Mulcair in particular should take note at this delicate juncture, when Canadians are deciding how to vote to get rid of the deplorable Harper government – we do not need the most-expensive and possibly least capable military aircraft ever to take to the air (when it doesn’t spontaneously combust on the runway first).

Mr. Mulcair and the prime minister may have faith in the public tendering process. Given that the F-35 boondoggle has gotten this far, the Canadian public should not.

What’s next? Vertical takeoff F-35s for the Mistral? Why not? Lockheed-Martin makes one for the Marine Corps, after all! I’m not making that up.

Join the Conversation


  1. No argument on the F-35. That plane stinks. No argument on the fact that Canada does need a military. The problem Mr. Mulcair will have to address IF he is the government is that NDP policy on defense has been unrealistic for decades. IF you are the government, one of your key priorities is the defence of the nation. That one you cannot duck. The NDP has not, in the past, developed a realistic defence policy. That is no easy task. It is a complicated world. Our current military, although it includes many brave and well-trained individuals, has significant shortcomings. Most of them are related to gear. We are still flying helicopters which are almost as old as I am. We are building incredibly expensive “Arctic Offshore Patrol Ships” at the Irving shipyard in Halifax. OK, ships mean jobs. But are these the kind of ships we need going forward? I have never seen a persuasive argument for the Arctic Offshore Patrol Ship. But the bigger problem is that procurement of gear for the military is bogged down in endless bureaucracy. Guys like Hillier and Natynczyk were able to punch through the system and get us stuff like the big transport aircraft (CF 17s). I rode one of those home from Afghanistan. Those are awesome aircraft. That is a capability that counts. The new Chief of the Defense Staff, General Vance, is a Hillier kind of guy. I have worked with him. He is so damn smart that it hurts. He knows how to relate to decision makers. He knows how to schmooze, and he knows when to insist on an intelligent outcome. I wish him well. But the next government, regardless of who is in charge, faces a formidable task of reviewing and revamping a defence policy that has languished under inattention from Conservative and Liberal governments for decades It’s a complicated world. And mean. And getting meaner. What was it that the Boy Scouts preached? BE PREPARED.

  2. Enjoyed the article. Pity the general electorate fails to appreciate the F35 is, what we used to term in the airforce, ‘a bucket of bolts.’

  3. It nearly broke out military to maintain a minuscule contingent of 2,500 in Afghanistan. Under Harper, Canada’s military budget has fallen to just shy of 1% GDP. The last time it was 2% was under Pierre Trudeau. Having these ships is one thing. Having a need for them is another. As you point out, what countries would Canada envision assaulting? Is somebody thinking about creating a Royal Canadian Marine Corps? Surely our military priority has to be the defence of Canada, not gearing up with offensive hardware like the F-35 and these Mistrals. No matter how hard we try to ignore it, Putin is re-militarizing the Arctic. China has announced its intention to establish a permanent and substantial military presence in the Arctic. Beijing already has the world’s largest, non-nuclear icebreaker with more on the slips in South Korea. China has also provocatively announced that the standard rules of the Law of the Sea convention don’t apply to the Arctic and the seabed resources are simply up for grabs. I think we need a new generation of long range maritime patrol aircraft with a force of long range high speed interceptors to back them up. That’s a vast, sparsely populated territory up there, an enormous coastline and airspace to be patrolled.

  4. Harper likes to constantly portray himself as a good manager of public finances. If all of his consecutive deficits do not convince Canadians that this is not the case, then the example of the F-35 boondoggle should. These aircraft which may not even work properly, are costing billions and billions of dollars more than Canadians were initially told. Fortunately, it is still not too late for us to get out of this bad deal.

    Yesterday Harper tried to argue that buying the F-35 would result in jobs for Canada, but I think the jobs he was talking about may even be more stealthy than the aircraft. How many jobs? where? He didn’t even give any real numbers in his answer. Perhaps in his mind Harper has created millions of jobs for Canadians since he has been Prime Minister Unfortunately for Canadians, he has not created very many real ones.

    In any event, arguing to waste billions of dollars of taxpayers money because it may create some jobs is either very desperate or foolish. It is obvious there are other aircraft that are better and cheaper. I suspect those other companies will also be glad to do some development or production work in Canada, so we won’t lose any jobs by going with less expensive planes – just save taxpayers a lot of money.

    Harper’s evasive non answer on this huge example of government waste and bad decision making should make everyone upset, especially his fiscal conservative supporters who may have been under the misimpression he was actually a good manager of our finances.

  5. Two other worthwhile quips from the same video.
    Harper: Trudeau doesn’t realize how much business we are going to loose.
    Mulclair: Just goes to show Trudeau has no idea of Government.

  6. The good old Flying Turkey-35 makes the headlines again. Never mind that Spain and Chile are supplying ships to the Canadian Navy because we just don’t – ahem! – have any.

    What does that matter when we can pay through the nose for planes that require gazillions of lines of yet-unwritten computer code to make them run (what could possibly go wrong there?), that have batteries that occasionally catch fire, a single engine for use in a country that is so vast that it requires at least two in case something should go wrong, a rather dodgy cold-start record (no problem in a country that is wintry half the time, but we could always wait for global warming to kick in for good) and a maintenance schedule that would keep them in the shop most of the time. Sounds perfect!

    Also, Harper’s claim that scrapping the FT-35 would “crater” the aerospace industry in Canada – the Baloney Meter gave that particular statement a rating of “a lot of baloney”.

    Kind of like saying that commissioning a bunch of Lamborghinis to deliver lunch to Con MP’s would be a good deal because the it would keep the Lambo mechanics busy cleaning pizza off of the gear shift.

    A lot of baloney? That goes for this whole pitiful Con campaign.

    1. Getting ships from Chile isn’t new: the Royal Canadian Navy’s very first submarines had been built for Chile, but the Chilean government didn’t pay the bill and they were up for grabs in early August 1914 when BC Premier Richard McBride bought them up and handed them over to the RCN at the outbreak of the First World War (skirting US neutrality laws that would have prevented them from being sold to the then-Dominion of Canada).

  7. OMG, what are you thinking! We need the F-35’s! They are the only 5th generation fighter in development! Our military needs the best equipment and 5th generation has to be better than previous generations!

    OK, now that the rhetoric is out of the way, just WTF is a 5th generation fighter anyway? If 5th generation fighters are so important then why isn’t any other country developing them?

    Why does the RCAF need stealth capability as stealth is a 1st strike requirement and is pretty much useless for defensive purposes (you know – protecting Canadian airspace from, well some imaginary force that we think we might be able to beat). Any mission that the CAF has recently taken part in has been either suppression or support – neither requires stealth as the radar has been taken out of play.

    Why would our air-force so recently having “Royal” appended to its moniker not buy something built in the ‘royal’ country?

    If our military need nothing but the best, then why has the CPC delayed or diminished so many other procurement programs?

    Haven’t we learned from our experience in buying used submarines? What possible purpose would an amphibious assault helicopter ship serve for the RCN? We have identified a need for replacements of frigates and destroyers, but we are going to add another type of ship that will further stretch our resources.

    It would seem that the military procurement process has been invaded by a bunch of pre-teenage boys who are perpetually enthralled by any new toy that becomes available and they simply must have it in order to feel like they are growing up and playing with the ‘big boys’.

  8. Test Pilot Admits the F-35 Can’t Dogfight

    New stealth fighter is dead meat in an air battle

    The F-35 was flying “clean,” with no weapons in its bomb bay or under its wings and fuselage. The F-16, by contrast, was hauling two bulky underwing drop tanks, putting the older jet at an aerodynamic disadvantage.

    But the JSF’s advantage didn’t actually help in the end. The stealth fighter proved too sluggish to reliably defeat the F-16, even with the F-16 lugging extra fuel tanks. “Even with the limited F-16 target configuration, the F-35A remained at a distinct energy disadvantage for every engagement,” the pilot reported.

  9. Fifth-generation fighter is just military-industrial-complex jargon to described the newest and most technology laden (not necessarily a good thing) fighter aircraft. To quote the always-useful Wikipedia: “The exact characteristics of fifth-generation jet fighters are controversial and vague.” Lockheed-Martin’s larger and even-more-expensive F-22 is in service and, everyone seems to agree, meets the definition. Other aircraft cited in this category are the Sukhoi PAK FA (Russia) and the Chengdu J-20 and Shenyang J-31 (China). Several other countries – including Japan, Korea and India – claim to be developing Fifth Gen fighters.

  10. Do we really need a fleet of fighter jets? Certainly not for self-defense. If Canada was attacked I’m certain our many friends will come to our defense, not wanting our natural resources, um, er, I mean Canada, to fall under the control of a hostile power.

    What about our obligations to NATO? I’m sorry, but NATO has been involved in so many disasters lately that quite frankly I don’t see why anybody would want to be associated with that organization. The last time our fighters were involved in a conflict was in Libya in Libya where we helped throw out Ghadafi. For that gallant action our pilots were awarded medals by Harper. And Libya has descended into chaos run by jihadists and ISIS wannabes.

    If push comes to shove and we really needed to show the flag and “do our part” in the neverending fight for freedom I suppose we could rent the Brazilian Air Force.

    Playing devils advocate here.

    1. “If Canada was attacked I’m certain our many friends will come to our defense” How pathetic that must make you feel… Do you realize how entitled and spoiled you sound when you say something like that? You are a perfectly example of the cowardice that is consuming Canada. Your ancestors would be ashamed of what you all have done with the country they left you.

  11. I feel it is past time we did a radical rethink of our defence policy, with a White Paper, public hearings, etc. Defence policy should be firmly linked to foreign policy, and defence procurement should be firmly linked to getting the troops what they need to implement the policy.

    As for major equipment purchases, how about just buying it “off the shelf” as it were, without all those complex “offsets” that do nothing but complicate the picture? How many more planes, tanks and ships could we buy per dollar spent?

    Clausewitz famously said, “war is nothing more than the continuation of policy by other means”. Therefore, Canadians need to decide first what [foreign] policy objectives are so important they are worth putting our young men and women in harm’s way; then we need to decide what equipment and materiel we are prepared to buy for them, and how many soldiers, sailors and aviators there should be. Finally, we should then go shopping for that equipment and materiel at the best achievable price, and hire and train the troops, without regard to whether employment will be created in some region or another.

    National Defence is not, and should not be viewed as, a job creation programme: it is about the defence of the nation, its people and its values.

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