F-35 fighter jets: $20 billion to purchase highly criticized device

F-35 fighter jets: $20 billion to purchase highly criticized device

After procrastinating for 10 years, Canada is preparing to acquire 88 F-35 fighter jets at a cost of nearly $20 billion.

The device is controversial. Said to be too complicated, not to the point, and expensive to maintain. Former US Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller even called it “a bunch of…” [merde] at a press conference early last year.

However, its high technology impresses, and its ability to evade enemy radar is praised. And it is also the choice of many armed forces outside the United States. So far, 14 countries have requested it.

Before Canada issues its final purchase order for the end of the year, we bring you the point of view of two experienced aviators who have opposing views on the F-35.

A former test pilot in the United States for the Lockheed company, the manufacturer of the F-35, Billie Flynn, knows the model well. She has flown her wings many times as a test pilot.

He had previously been a fighter pilot in the Canadian Armed Forces. He is something of a legend in the aviation world here.

For him, there is no doubt: Canada made the best decision by choosing the device as the new combat aircraft, the most sophisticated that has ever existed, he says.

“When you fly an F-35, you have a sense of omnipotence and invincibility in every task you do,” he says.

flying computer

In his opinion, the F-35 offers unprecedented 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 its wings and fuselage, it is equipped with sophisticated interconnected means of detection.

“With sensor fusion, the pilot and the aircraft detect everything in the air, over the sea, and on the ground within a 360-degree radius around the aircraft, in some cases hundreds of miles away,” he says. Flynn.

The F-35 comes with a pilot’s helmet, also unusual, remember. Valued at $500,000, the helmet features machine vision and allows the pilot to see through the plane when he looks out.

This plane will allow, underlines Mr. Flynn, to face the latest generation planes being manufactured by the Russians and the Chinese.

“It is crucial to ensure that if Canada has to send our Armed Forces men and women into high-risk environments, that our fighters are as effective as possible and always achieve victories.”

long focus

Mr. Flynn admits that the development of the F-35 is long and arduous. The plane has been flying since 2006 and is not considered finished yet.

But, according to him, this long journey is attributable to the very nature of the program. After all, he points out, “it’s the most complex device ever designed.”

Criticism, in the United States and other parts of the world, is up to the size of the program, whose final bill is estimated at 1.5 billion dollars, that is, they are strong, acknowledges Flynn.

According to him, Canada’s 10-year delay in purchasing the F-35 has its advantages. When the first examples begin to be delivered to the Canadian Forces, the aircraft will have benefited from the long break-in carried out by the Americans and other countries that have already purchased them.

Canada is about to buy a fighter jet that is underdeveloped, says French military analyst Xavier Tillman.

“Maybe it will be in 10 years, but today we don’t know how much this plane is worth,” he said in an interview.

Mr. Tytelman, who served in the French military aviation, is known for his scathing analysis of the shortcomings of the Russian military in the current Ukrainian conflict.

Remember that, at the moment, the list of failures of the F-35 is long.

Here are the main ones, according to him.

  • Maintenance costs for the F-35 are still high, topping $30,000 per flight hour, which is six times that of a plane like the Gripen, which was in the running to replace our aging CF-18s. Costs should eventually fall, but how much is not known.
  • Your availability rate for departures is always low because of the time you spend on maintenance. Currently, the rate is 50%. It would have to reach at least 60% for the level to be satisfactory, says Mr. Tytelman.
  • The forward hull of the F-35 had some misfires. Thus, an ill-fitting helmet on a pilot’s head was partly responsible for the crash of an F-35 in May 2020 at a Florida base.
  • The aircraft’s full-touch screens are difficult for pilots to use. Without physical buttons, the pilot must look at the screen when he wants to press control, which diverts attention from him and causes him to make mistakes.

The plane’s immense complexity means, says Mr. Tytelman, that it is still not fully operational 15 years after its first test flight. Therefore, 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 second thoughts, Mr. Tytelman continues: “Instead of speeding up production of the F-35 in the United States for US forces, it slows down its production. »

In March, the US Department of Defense announced, without explanation, that it was cutting planned F-35 orders for next year by more than a third, from 94 to 61 aircraft.

Mr. Tytelman also recalls that an internal Pentagon report, released in early 2022, identified 849 uncorrected design flaws in the F-35, including six Category 1 flaws, meaning ones that can cause death or serious injury.

Mr. Tytelman goes to great lengths to explain why the F-35 continues to sell successfully outside of 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 versions that circulate, the French fighter Rafale had practically been chosen by the country as its new fighter, “until [le président] Joe Biden, says Mr. Tytelman, pays a visit to Switzerland and suddenly the F-35 becomes the favorite. »

In their eyes, it is difficult to predict the future of the F-35. Will we be able to correct its flaws? No one rows, he says. “Today, the F-35 is still not a good aircraft, and that is a certainty,” concludes Mr. Tytelman.

This is the basic version, the most requested and by far (74% of the total orders of the F-35). It’s also the one Canada should get. This is an aircraft operated from land bases.

Intended for aircraft carriers, this aircraft has reinforced landing gear and longer wings.

With a short, vertical takeoff, this version produced in limited numbers is usedarey the US Marine Corps and the British and Italian naval forces.

AF-184 flown by Lt. Cdr.  Jonathan 'Two' Beaton, at Owen's Moa, with Whitney and the snow-capped Sierra Nevada in the background

Canada has tried twice to obtain F-35s.

Partnered with the Americans in the program from the beginning, Canada launched the acquisition process in 2012. At that time, Canadian fighter jets, the CF-18s, were already beginning to age.

When they came to power in 2015, Justin Trudeau’s Liberals called off the whole thing, claiming the F-35 was too expensive. In 2019, they resumed the replacement program for the increasingly obsolete CF-18. Several aircraft manufacturers are showing interest, including Lockheed with the F-35.

The circle is complete when, in March 2022, Ottawa announces that it is choosing the F-35 for the second time. If the contract is signed without difficulty, the first copies could be delivered as early as 2025.

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