The real issue behind the F-35 fiasco

A week ago Tuesday, the Ottawa Office team attended Question Period. This was the day  the Auditor General released his scathing criticism of the government’s plans to buy the controversial F-35 jet fighters.  And as was expected, Question Period was as fiery as the jets engines themselves.

Opposition parties accused the Prime Minister of dodging responsibility for the fiasco and called for the Defence Minister to be fired for allowing Defence Department officials to mislead Parliament about cost overruns and other problems with $25 billion fighter purchase.

Indeed, Mulcair, leader of the official opposition, declared: “It’s absolutely scandalous that the Canadian government would intentionally provide information that they knew to be false.”

While Government transparency and forthrightness are indeed crucial, the ensuing media storm has clouded the real issue: the only real way to reduce fighter jet expenditures is to buy fewer of them!

Thus concludes Ernie Regehr, co-founder of Project Ploughshares, one of Canada’s premier peace and security NGOs, in his article “New Figher Aircraft: 36-year-Cycle Cost Estimate Comparisons.”

Regehr shows that differing lifespans and what is included as expense are the cause of the wide-ranging, even conflicting, cost estimates thrown around by government, opposition, and media. He bases the above conclusion on significant number crunching that uses consistent lifespans and includes all costs in comparing the F-35 and a more “affordable” option.

The difference isn’t that great; thus, his statement that clears the clouds: “The only real way to save money on fighter aircraft is to buy and operate fewer of them.”

What we really need in Canada, apart from all the procurement issues, is a larger debate about military spending priorities. What is security anyway? And how is it gained and maintained? Now that’s a public dialogue I’d like to participate in!

Tim Schmucker, MCC Ottawa Office Public Engagement Coordinator

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