14 June 2016

Marc "Two Engines" Garneau and Bad Decision-Making #nlpoli

Cast your mind all the way back to the last time Canada bought new fighter jets.​


 Lost most of you already.  

No memory back that far.

Well,  it was the late 1970s.  Canada needed new jets to replace the F-104 Starfighters doing duty for NATO,  the F101 Voodoos handling the defence of Canada role, and even the old F-5 Freedom fighters doing a stint on ground attack.

The finalists were the single-engined F-16 and the F-17/F-18.  The -17. for those who don't recall, was the land version of the -18.  Same aircraft just lacking the reinforced landing gear and other bits the navy aircraft needed to slam into carrier decks.

In the end,  the air force picked the -18, in no small part because it had two engines.  Lots of pilots said that when you are flying long stretches over the vast and largely empty North,  you needed the second engine in case one of them crapped out.

Now as we look at replacing those F-18s,  we are hearing precisely the same criticism levied by some like Marc Garneau at the air force's preferred choice, the F-35.  Only one engine.  No good.

The curious thing about that old F-16 argument is that it doesn't hold up.  The F-16 has proven to be a very successful aircraft still flown and loved by all sorts of pilots around the world 40 years after its introduction.  It's performed well in combat,  including in heavily defended hostile airspace where its many critics used to think it wouldn't survive.   The F-18 is also a very successful aircraft.  Available statistics suggest that the aircraft loss rates due to engine failure is comparable for the two aircraft.

Prejudices bolstered by misinformation is no basis for making decisions that affect people's lives. The story that a bunch of cabinet ministers will sort out the purchase of Canada's next generation  of fighter aircraft is troubling on two accounts.  First there is the prejudices issue.  Second, and just as important is that the cabinet ministers are unqualified to make such a choice. \

 To see how unsuccessful this approach can be we need only look at the Sea King replacement.  Close to 25 years after the air force picked the right aircraft, we are still struggling to get a new ship-borne helicopter in service.  The right choice - the EH-101 - fell victim to the political interests and whimsical decisions of the Liberals before the 1993 federal election. They not only cancelled the EH-101 purchase,  they delayed a decision on an alternative for years, needlessly. As it stands now,  the derivative of an air frame that first flew in the 1970s won't all be in service until 2021.  That's almost 30 years after the cancellation of the EH-101s.

Had the federal government gone ahead with the EH-101s at the time or had we bought EH-101s under a revised contract,  we'd have a proven, successful aircraft in service today.  As it is,  bad decisions have cost taxpayers billions in wasteful procurement and delays only to wind up with an aircraft that simply won't ever be able to do the job properly.  It would be hard to find a better monument to stupidity than the EH-101 cancellation and the subsequent helicopter procurement.  The current federal cabinet is in danger of making the same sort of bone-headed decision again with the new fighter aircraft.