That distinctive hump on top of the engine, between the twin tails, is the drag chute meant for icy, slippery and short runways. Canada’s CF-35s will come equipped with that option. Lockheed Martin.

 

Well, that didn’t take long at all.

On Monday, Jan. 9, Canada’s Defence Minister Anita Anand finally announced that Canada will, indeed, be buying 88 F-35A Lightning II fighter planes, which we, in our Canadian way, will dub the CF-35A. The price is $19 billion.

This comes 12.5 years after Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced we were going to buy 65 F-35s, waaaay back in July, 2010. But the Liberals took issue with it being a sole source deal, despite the fact Canada had signed onto the program back in the 1990s, under a Liberal government.

Then Justin Trudeau said Canada wouldn’t buy the F-35 (obviously because it was a Harper plan, even though it had been a Chretien plan beforehand). And we spent the last seven years jumping through hoops to come to the same conclusion both Chretien and Harper had.

 

Those conclusions are becoming very apparent on the battlefield of Ukraine. Older aircraft designs, those without stealth, don’t stand much of a chance in a real modern battlefield, one where they other guys have the ability to shoot you down.

I’ve always loved aircraft. I was an air cadet for six years, and an RCAF officer for seven, training cadets. But only in the last few years have I been able to dramatically grow my knowledge about fighter aircraft. That’s due to a number of podcasts now available, like the Fighter Pilot Podcast, the Afterburn Podcast, and YouTube’s Ward Carrol, all of whom have many years experience flying actual fighters. After a few hundred episodes collectively between these, you absorb a thing or two. Until I had, I never had a clue how little I really knew about this sort of thing.

RCAF Lt.-Col. Billie Flynn, ret.’d, former test pilot for the F-35. Lockheed Martin

And a guest on most of these has been Billie Flynn, one of Canada’s very first CF-18 pilots when we first took possession of them in the 1980s. He commanded a squadron over the former Yugoslavia. And after leaving the Royal Canadian Air Force as a lieutenant colonel, he became one of the lead test pilots during the development of the F-35, working for Lockheed.

  • 0041 DEEP Since 2018 now we are going to build
    0041 DEEP Since 2018 now we are going to build
  • 0040 Southeast College safety tickets
    0040 Southeast College safety tickets
  • 0036 Prairie Lithium - Chad Glemser 30 Sec
  • 0033 Buffalo Potash Jared Small Footprint
  • 0032 IWS Summer hiring rock trailer music
  • 0029 Latus Viro updated Latus phone
  • 0025 Kendalls
  • 0026 Buffalo Potash Quinton Salt
  • 0023 LC Trucking tractor picker hiring mix
  • 0022 Grimes winter hiring
  • 0021 OSY Rentals S8 Promo
  • 0019 Jerry Mainil Ltd hiring dugout
  • 0018 IWS Hiring Royal Summer
  • 0014 Buffalo Potash What if PO
  • 0013 Panther Drilling PO ad 03 top drive rigs
  • 0011
  • 0006 JK Junior
  • 0004 Royal Helium PO Ad 02
  • 9001
  • 0002

 

You can’t see me

Obviously, he’s biased towards the plane he helped develop and promote. But one of the things he stressed was how low observability, also known as stealth, is absolutely critical in any future conflict.

We’ve seen this in spades over the last year in the skies over Ukraine. The Russians only have a small number of stealth fighters, and they’ve been loath to use them over Ukraine. Meanwhile, NATO has provided increasingly sophisticated surface-to-air missiles and anti-aircraft artillery (AAA). The result has been 10.5 months in, Russia still has not established air superiority. Their planes and helicopters are continually swatted out of the sky, and that was before the U.S. started shipping them Patriot missiles or Germany sent its Gepard AAA units. Stinger missiles can pack quite a whallop, it seems.

And similarly, Ukraine, without sophisticated combat aircraft, and especially no stealth aircraft, cannot clear its skies, either. Thus, it’s carefully shepherding its remaining aircraft as much as possible.

RCAF Lt.-Col. Billie Flinn, ret.’d. Lockheed Martin Photo by Angel DelCueto

So when Canada went looking for a new fighter, there were initially four models – three “Generation 4.5 models – the French Dassault Rafale, Swedish Saab Gripen-E, and American Boeing F-18E/F Super Hornet, in addition to the fifth generation (stealth) Lockheed F-35. The French pulled out early, the Super Hornet was rejected late in the game, and the Gripen ultimately lost.

But for those who actually know anything about these things, there was no competition at all. Buying designs that were not stealthy, and were rooted in the 1970s and 80s, simply could not be expected to be current for the next 40 years of which we plan on flying these planes.

And without stealth, they would have no hope at all.

  • 0041 DEEP Since 2018 now we are going to build
    0041 DEEP Since 2018 now we are going to build
  • 0040 Southeast College safety tickets
    0040 Southeast College safety tickets
  • 0036 Prairie Lithium - Chad Glemser 30 Sec
  • 0033 Buffalo Potash Jared Small Footprint
  • 0032 IWS Summer hiring rock trailer music
  • 0029 Latus Viro updated Latus phone
  • 0025 Kendalls
  • 0026 Buffalo Potash Quinton Salt
  • 0023 LC Trucking tractor picker hiring mix
  • 0022 Grimes winter hiring
  • 0021 OSY Rentals S8 Promo
  • 0019 Jerry Mainil Ltd hiring dugout
  • 0018 IWS Hiring Royal Summer
  • 0014 Buffalo Potash What if PO
  • 0013 Panther Drilling PO ad 03 top drive rigs
  • 0011
  • 0006 JK Junior
  • 0004 Royal Helium PO Ad 02
  • 9001
  • 0002

 

This is a conclusion nearly all of our allies have come to, and increasingly so since the Ukraine war started. Germany ordered a bunch in December, as did Finland in December, 2021 (a few months before the war started and they applied to join NATO). Maybe Australia, Belgium, Denmark, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, Norway, Switzerland, South Korea, Poland, Singapore, United Kingdom, United States, Australia and Israel – especially Israel – know a thing or two. They’ve all chosen the F-35.

Canada has gained one good thing from being one of the last to the party. As one of the most sophisticated aircraft to ever fly, it has had teething problems. The initial batches, like those the Australians got, weren’t good for much initially, and needed to be upgraded. But we are going to be getting all “Block IV” models, the fourth iteration of the airframe, and most of those bugs have been worked out. We’re getting airframes that are mature, and useable.

The problem is timing. There’s a major war on right now – one that could at any time include us, should the Russians decide to roll into Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia or Finland (likely to become a NATO member any day now). This war is far from over.

Four jets are all we’re getting the first year, then six the next year and another six the third. Lockheed Martin

Is 88 enough?

But the soonest we will get our hands on a new CF-35 will be in 2026, and even then, the first planes will be located in the U.S., training our first batch of pilots. We won’t have the last of our 88 ordered airframes until 2032.

And there is one more thing you have to give Trudeau credit for – he always said we needed 88 planes, not the 65 Harper said. Now, maybe Harper would have expanded that order later. But we lost at least 20 CF-18s since introduced in the early 1980s. If you’re starting with 65, and some are always in maintenance, 65 units doesn’t leave much to play with. And that’s not counting any potential combat losses.

And even then, 88 is pretty low for a country that covers half a continent. Especially if we ever need to send some elsewhere, like Poland, to stop the Russians. When we bought the CF-18, we bought 138 of them to deploy in Canada and Europe, for exactly the reasons I just listed.

  • 0041 DEEP Since 2018 now we are going to build
    0041 DEEP Since 2018 now we are going to build
  • 0040 Southeast College safety tickets
    0040 Southeast College safety tickets
  • 0036 Prairie Lithium - Chad Glemser 30 Sec
  • 0033 Buffalo Potash Jared Small Footprint
  • 0032 IWS Summer hiring rock trailer music
  • 0029 Latus Viro updated Latus phone
  • 0025 Kendalls
  • 0026 Buffalo Potash Quinton Salt
  • 0023 LC Trucking tractor picker hiring mix
  • 0022 Grimes winter hiring
  • 0021 OSY Rentals S8 Promo
  • 0019 Jerry Mainil Ltd hiring dugout
  • 0018 IWS Hiring Royal Summer
  • 0014 Buffalo Potash What if PO
  • 0013 Panther Drilling PO ad 03 top drive rigs
  • 0011
  • 0006 JK Junior
  • 0004 Royal Helium PO Ad 02
  • 9001
  • 0002

Monessa “Siren” Balzhiser, Lockheed Martin’s first F-35 female pilot, takes her first flight in the F-35 at Luke Air Force Base on June 7, 2021. Lockheed Martin photo by Angel DelCueto.

But I can see you

But another thing I learned from all these podcasts is how the F-35 is vastly more capable when it comes to situational awareness. The reason the helmet alone costs $400,000 is because the plane has cameras all around it. The pilot can virtually look through the plane, as if it wasn’t there, using the images from these cameras projected onto the lens of his helmet. It’s like flying Wonder Woman’s invisible jet.

On top of that, each F-35 talks to each other, such that pretty much everything one plane knows (like where a bad guy is), all the others in a flight know as well. That’s a multiplier effect that science fiction is made of, and the other competitor aircraft didn’t even come close on.

So despite Trudeau’s mucking around with the procurement of these fighters for political show, he did allow his government to actually make the right choice – and one that was clearly not the one he would have initially picked. Eating that crow shows a certain level of maturity that most in Western Canada would not have expected from him, given his behaviour on pipelines and other items of national importance.

Maybe having a real war going on in Europe, one we could be drawn into at any time, finally cut the bullshit.

Just don’t give Trudeau too much credit. It’s not lost on anyone that of the two most important military procurement announcements of a generation (the other being replacing basically our entire navy except for the subs), he let his ministers make the announcement.

Trudeau was nowhere to be seen.

At this time, I don’t care. We need these planes, and we need them yesterday.

 

Brian Zinchuk is editor and owner of Pipeline Online. He can be reached at brian.zinchuk@pipelineonline.ca. He mustered out of the RCAF reserves in 2008 as a lowly lieutenant, qualified in teaching kids how to march in circles.

 

  • 0041 DEEP Since 2018 now we are going to build
    0041 DEEP Since 2018 now we are going to build
  • 0040 Southeast College safety tickets
    0040 Southeast College safety tickets
  • 0036 Prairie Lithium - Chad Glemser 30 Sec
  • 0033 Buffalo Potash Jared Small Footprint
  • 0032 IWS Summer hiring rock trailer music
  • 0029 Latus Viro updated Latus phone
  • 0025 Kendalls
  • 0026 Buffalo Potash Quinton Salt
  • 0023 LC Trucking tractor picker hiring mix
  • 0022 Grimes winter hiring
  • 0021 OSY Rentals S8 Promo
  • 0019 Jerry Mainil Ltd hiring dugout
  • 0018 IWS Hiring Royal Summer
  • 0014 Buffalo Potash What if PO
  • 0013 Panther Drilling PO ad 03 top drive rigs
  • 0011
  • 0006 JK Junior
  • 0004 Royal Helium PO Ad 02
  • 9001
  • 0002