After stalling for 10 years, Canada is preparing to acquire 88 F-35 fighter jets at a cost of nearly $20 billion.
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The device is controversial. It is said to be very complicated, not accurate, and expensive to maintain. Former US Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller even called it “a group of…” [merde] At a press conference at the beginning of last year.
However, its high technology impresses with its ability to evade enemy radar. It is also the choice of many armed forces outside the United States. So far, 14 countries have requested it.
Before Canada places its final order by the end of the year, we’re giving you the perspective of two experienced pilots who have diametrically opposed opinions about the F-35.
Former US test pilot for Lockheed, the manufacturer of the F-35, Billie Flynn, knows the model well. He has flown his wings several times as a test pilot.
He was previously a fighter pilot in the Canadian Armed Forces. She’s kind of a legend in the aviation world here.
For him, there is no doubt that Canada made the best decision by choosing the device as the new, most advanced combat aircraft ever, he said.
“When you fly an F-35, you have a sense of absolute power and invincibility in every mission you take on,” he says.
In his opinion, the F-35 offers unparalleled combat capabilities due to the technology on board.
“It’s a real flying computer,” he says.
In addition to being designed to evade enemy radar thanks to the design of their wings and fuselage, they are equipped with advanced means of detecting each other.
“With sensor integration, the pilot and plane capture everything in the air, over the sea and on land within a 360-degree radius around the plane, in some cases hundreds of miles,” Flynn says.
He remembers that the F-35 comes with a pilot helmet, which is also out of the ordinary. The helmet is valued at $500,000, features synthetic vision and allows the pilot to see through the plane when looking outside.
This aircraft will allow, as Mr. Flynn asserts, to counteract the last generation aircraft of the Russian and Chinese manufacture.
“It is critical to make sure that if Canada is to send our men and women from the armed forces into high-risk environments, that our fighters will be as effective as possible and that they achieve victories every time.”
Mr. Flynn admits that developing the F-35 has been long and arduous. The plane has been flying since 2006 and is not considered finished yet.
But, according to him, such a long journey is due to the very nature of the program. After all, he notes, “It’s the most complex device ever designed.”
Critics, in the US and elsewhere, are commensurate with the size of the program, which is estimated to have a final bill of $1.5 trillion, which is strong, acknowledges Mr. Flynn.
According to him, Canada’s 10-year delay in purchasing the F-35 has its positive aspects. When the first examples begin to be delivered to the Canadian Forces, the aircraft will have benefited from the prolonged intrusion carried out by the Americans and other countries that have already purchased it.
French military analyst Xavier Tetelman said that Canada is about to buy a completely undeveloped combat aircraft.
“Maybe it will be in 10 years, but today we don’t know what the value of this plane really is,” he said in an interview.
Mr. Titelman, who served in French military aviation, is known for his scathing analyzes of the shortcomings of the Russian military in the current Ukrainian conflict.
He recalls that, for the time being, the list of F-35 errors is long.
Here are the most important ones
- Maintenance costs for the F-35 remain high, at more than $30,000 per flight hour, which is six times the cost of an aircraft like the Gripen, which was in the process of replacing older CFs-18s. The costs should eventually come down, but how much is not known.
- Its availability for outings is always low due to the time spent on maintenance. The rate is currently 50%. The level must be at least 60% to be satisfactory, Mr. Tytelman points out.
- The advanced F-35 helmet has some faults. Thus, an ill-fitting helmet on the pilot’s head was partly responsible for the May 2020 crash of the F-35 at a base in Florida.
- It is difficult for pilots to fully use touch screens. Without physical buttons, the pilot would have to look exactly at the screen when he wanted to press a command, which would distract him and make him make mistakes.
Mr. Tettelman says the plane’s sheer complexity means it’s still not fully operational 15 years after its first test flight. Thus, the 1,358 copies of the F-35 currently flying are not final versions of the aircraft. Therefore, it is impossible to say whether the F-35s that Canada will receive by the end of the decade will be ready.
And even the US military seems to have doubts, continues Mr. Tytelman: “Instead of accelerating the production of the F-35 in the United States for American forces, they slow down their production.”
In March, the US Department of Defense announced, without giving any explanation, that it had reduced orders for F-35s due to be launched next year by more than a third, from 94 to 61.
Tytelman also recalls that an internal Pentagon report, disclosed in early 2022, identified 849 uncorrected design flaws on the F-35, including six Class 1 defects that could cause death or serious injury.
Tytelman struggles to explain why the F-35 continues to be sold successfully outside the United States, as it did to Finland and Switzerland last year, and to Germany this year.
He sees in it the result of the political influence of the Americans.
He cites the case of Switzerland. According to circulating reports, the French Rafale fighter has been practically chosen by the state as its new fighter, “even [le président] Mr. Tittelman says Joe Biden made a visit to Switzerland and suddenly the F-35 was the frontrunner. »
In his eyes, the future of the F-35 is difficult to predict. Will we be able to correct his flaws? Nobody really knows, he says. “Today, the F-35 is not a good aircraft yet, that’s for sure,” concludes Mr. Tettleman.
This is the basic version, the most in demand, and by far (74% of all orders for the F-35). It is also the one that Canada should get. This is an aircraft that operates from ground bases.
Designed for aircraft carriers, this aircraft is equipped with reinforced landing gear and longer wings.
With a vertical and short take-off, this version produced in limited numbers is used by the US Marines and the British and Italian navies.
Canada has twice tried to acquire the F-35.
Program with the Americans from the start, Canada launched the acquisition in 2012. At that time, Canadian combat aircraft, CF-18s, were already beginning to age.
When they came to power in 2015, liberals Justin Trudeau scrapped everything, claiming the F-35 was too expensive. In 2019, they resumed the replacement program for increasingly obsolete CF-18s. Several aircraft manufacturers are showing interest, including Lockheed with the F-35.
The circle was completed when, in March 2022, Ottawa announced that it would select the F-35 for a second time. If the contract is signed without difficulty, the first copies can be delivered as early as 2025.
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