Acquiring the F-22 Raptor is a desirable goal, but the devil is in the details

Working Towards F-22s for the Canadian Air Force

By —— Bio and Archives--August 26, 2014

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As a longtime advocate for Canada’s acquisition of the F-22 Raptor, I fine it disappointing to see little real progress being made towards a more mature view of Canada’s national defense policies. Indeed, we appear to going backwards, thereby making the acquisition of truly world-class military hardware even further away than it was back in 2011 when hopes were high soon after the Conservative Party took office with a majority government. One fears the influence of too many libertarians, and not enough conservatives, in the current right-of-center political milieu.


Even if the United States relaxed its export restrictions on the F-22, the hard questions remain to be answered: (1) would it consider Canada a suitable export market?, and (2) could Canada muster the required political support that would allow us to afford a meaningful number of F-22s and then operate them at their full capacity?

The first question isn’t an easy answer. Anti-Americanism runs very deep in Canadian culture, both on the left and right of the political spectrum. The Americans are aware of this. The argument that we are neighbors, allies, and trading partners will not carry the day when it comes to the sharing of very sensitive military technology. I suspect the American military establishment has a healthy distrust of some components of the Canadian defense and political establishment—and for good reason.

Canada’s public sector is a hotbed of support for anti-American regimes: notably Cuba, Russia, China, and Iran. With federal polling trends indicating a potential Liberal Party government in 2015, possibly at the majority level, you can be sure the Americans are watching who may be Canada’s next prime minister and the company he keeps. As Mike Fegelman pointed out in the Huffington Post during 2012, Justin Trudeau’s brother Alexandre (aka, “Sasha”) produced a documentary in association with “Iran’s state-funded propaganda arm Press-TV, along with the reviled anti-Israel broadcaster Al-Jazeera Arabic, and the Media Education Foundation (producer of the anti-Israel film ‘Peace, Propaganda, and the Promised Land’ found by CBC Radio-Canada’s ombudsman to be propaganda that never should have aired).”

According to the potential PM’s brother—who is also a key member of Justin Trudeau’s campaign team and praises Fidel Castro, Iran’s nuclear ambitions “are for ‘defensive’ purposes only, serving as an effective ‘deterrent’ against Israeli ‘aggression’ and belligerence.” Ezra Levant at Sun News also highlighted last year the anti-Israeli and anti-American stances taken publicly by the Trudeau family and its advisers. The information revealed by Fegelman and Levant is frightening, but Canada has a long history of these controversial views being embedded in the public sector.

The US government would be looking long and hard at whether to allow the F-22s to be exported to a nation whose potential leaders and government apparatus hold such extreme anti-American viewpoints. It is a large risk to take, perhaps too large. And while the Americans take a very skeptical view of China’s state-owned enterprises and other proxies for the Communist Party of China moving into their domestic markets, especially in high strategic value sectors such as energy and telecommunications, Canada has had few such qualms. China’s petroleum SOEs are well-established in the Canadian energy sector, Huawei has a strong foothold in Saskatchewan’s internet infrastructure, and the Conservative Party recently built a monument to Chinese communism with tax dollars.

Sound like a good export market for the F-22s? Canada has to clean up its backyard if it wants to receive the most advanced defense technology from south of the border.

Japan, Israel and Australia all expressed serious interest in obtaining F-22 exports back in the early- to mid-2000s, and this went nowhere despite significant support in some sectors of senior leadership from the Department of Defense and Congress. The Obey Amendment forbidding F-22 exports, thought to be “the result of transfers of U.S. technology from Israel to the People’s Republic of China, which resulted in aircraft such as the J-10,” remains a consistent component of the Defense Appropriations bill. If the U.S. needs to be concerned about technology transfers from highly nationalistic and homogenous Israel out to American adversaries, the concern level gets turned up a notch even higher for the dominantly anti-nationalistic, heterogeneous, and multi-cultural Canada whose society is riddled with infiltration by actors from countries hostile to the West.

As early as 2000, Matthew H. Molloy (Lt Col, USAF) had already written a Masters thesis at the School of Advanced Airpower Studies, Air University, Maxwell Air Force Base on “Crafting an F-22 Export Policy.” As Molloy notes, offset arrangements that would financially benefit the purchasing nation will be very difficult to negotiate in any F-22 export deal, since “according to Lockheed-Martin, some of the most highly guarded secrets associated with the F-22 are the technology and techniques used in the production of its parts and components.” Japan has already been exposed transferring sensitive submarine technology to the Soviets and leaking secret data associated with the Aegis weapon system. Thus, fears that it—as well as other allies—would pose a possible technology leakage risk via F-22 exports are well-founded. Canada, in its current state with problems layered throughout the public sector and on the political left, would—sadly—reasonably be included in a non-negligible risk category.

Finally, there is the cost issue. Given the hysteria created in the media and political spheres over the past few years with regard to the relatively modest costs of Canada’s possible F-35 purchase, one cannot foresee even a limited F-22 purchase causing anything less than infantile pandemonium—primarily on the political left (which also dominates the private mainstream media and public broadcaster). Lifecycle costs of a single F-22 are estimated at up to $700 million depending on how the calculations are done and whether portions of the original research and development costs would be passed on to the export purchasers. The simple fact remains that other nations are moving ahead with new fifth and sixth generation fighter programs, and the West has a clear choice: compete at whatever the cost, or fall behind in military capacity. There is no easy way out of the perpetual arms race that is human history.

Canada also cannot just buy some F-22s and sit them on a runaway surrounded by an inferior support system of infrastructure, personnel, and other equipment. The F-22s are designed to function with an advanced sphere of armed forces capability, much like a modern aircraft carrier is not a standalone device but instead requires a strike group, dedicated logistics train and basing systems, and many other components to reach full capacity. These types of costs are not included in American unit cost calculations for the F-22 because their force structure already incorporates much of what is needed, whereas the Canadian force structure is minimal at best. Consequently, the effective unit cost of Canada supporting F-22s at full capability will be much higher than values appearing in the American national defense literature.

The F-22 would be a great choice for the Royal Canadian Air Force if it could be acquired. But the devil is in the details if we want to work towards a more independent air defense posture rather than just adding a few additional planes to the large number that the U.S. military can already field in times of need, all the while relying almost entirely on the American support structure as well. For Canada to pull its share of the weight for North America’s collective defence will require big money over the long-term and a change of attitude and personnel in the public sector. On the current pace and trajectory, by the time Canada is willing and capable of having F-22s, they will be long obselete.


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Sierra Rayne -- Bio and Archives | Comments

Sierra Rayne holds a Ph.D. in Chemistry and writes regularly on environment, energy, and national security topics. He can be found on Twitter at @srayne_ca

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