The US campaign to secure fighter markets continued last week, with Defense Secretary Robert Gates making a strong Joint Strike Fighter pitch in Canada, and Pentagon acquisition chief Ashton Carter made an appearance at the release of a report that recommended US fighters for India's Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) requirement, followed by an F-35 purchase.
Gates' remarks in Canada are in the context of a roiling debate over the Conservative government's decision last summer to select the JSF without a competition, and expressly linked Canada's continued participation to US-Canada military relations:
"It will give us significant capability that will continue the interoperability that has been at the forefront of our NORAD relationship for decades now. So without getting into domestic affairs in Canada," Gates remarked (and thereby doing exactly that), "I would just say that my hope is that for all of our sakes that all of our partners continue to move forward with us on this program.”
Two former Canadian air force leaders weighed in on the debate last week, as well. In an op-ed for the Ottawa Citizen, former chief of the defence staff Gen. Paul Manson and the immediate past chief of the air staff, Gen. Angus Watt set out "ten myths that need to be debunked" about the F-35.
Memo to the generals: First, it doesn't look good when you don't tell the readers that one of you is the former boss of Lockheed Martin Canada. Second, when you set out to debunk myths, don't start with a statement that calls your grasp of basics into question.
"Modern jet engines are so reliable that there is little safety advantage, if any, in a twin-engined configuration. Two engines also mean more complexity and higher cost."
"If any?" So why do commercial aircraft not have single engines? The "reality" is that one way or another, all aircraft except sailplanes are designed on the assumption that engines will fail, because sooner or later they will. As for cost: P&W has said that its target cost for the F135 is equal to that of the F119, and if you look at any contract data you'll find that the F119 costs more than a brace of F414s - which may also say something about complexity.
That's not all:
Top speed was important in the Second World War, but today it is the missiles that do the high-speed work. Dogfighting is a thing of the past.
I think we have heard that before, in the 1950s, despite which the world's air forces (including Canada's) include air combat maneuver in their doctrine and training. And if that's the case, why does the F-35A have a fixed gun on its upper side, which is where you don't want it for ground attack? Or maybe the ideal solution to Canada's needs would look more like this:
Meanwhile, in Washington, Ashton Carter gave the keynote speech at the launch of a Carnegie Endowment report (entitled Dogfight!- you can't make this stuff up) on MMRCA. The report is an interesting read, particularly with reference to internal Indian politics, but its conclusion - that either the F-16 or the F/A-18 represent the best value for India - is influenced by comparisons of cost that are not entirely accurate.
The author quotes a $60 million unit cost for both US fighters, which is a unit flyaway price, compared with total-package prices for the Gripen NG (based on the package offered to Norway) and Typhoon (based on the Saudi deal). At that price, they do look like a bargain - but that's not the package price India will get.
The report goes on to suggest that India should look at acquiring JSF, and says that "were the IAF to choose either the F-16IN or the F/A-18E/F as its MMRCA fighter, it should make the option to acquire F-35s subsequently a condition of the deal." Ashton Carter pointed out that there is no legal restriction on selling the F-35 to India.
The Indian response was rapid: We already have a Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft program, thank you, and it looks like a T-50.
PS - The footnotes to the Carnegie report will not be pleasant reading to JackJack.