Finland has decided to buy 64 F-35As for 10 Billion Euros with weapons and training included in the package. According to the Finnish government press conference transcript, translated into English, https://www.defmin.fi/en/topical/press_releases_and_news?11662_m=12335#ccf08a71. (sorry…I have never been able to even come close to understanding or speaking Finnish):
“The F-35 solution achieved the highest operational effectiveness and future growth potential in the capability assessment.”
“The F-35 has the lowest procurement costs while considering all aspects of the offer.”
Why does this matter in Canada with only 2 competitors for the new fighter selection left standing? As I have stated many times (and Americans still don’t believe me), the Canadian procurement system is not focused on strategic benefits or capabilities of a weapons system to protect Canada, North America or to project Canadian interests abroad. Instead, this is a hot potato portfolio that no one has ever wanted to touch, even less so in the middle of the pandemic recovery where spending billions of dollars on a new fighter will not get broad approval from the electorate. Yet the long-delayed decision needs to be dealt with. The 40-year-old CF-18s are desperately old, tactically irrelevant and falling apart. The time to buy new jets, build them, train personnel, and prepare the facilities needed will take years so delaying this decision any longer is not an option.
Getting beyond Justin Trudeau’s 2015 election promise not to select the F-35 will be hard. But, if the Finns, who conducted the most comprehensive capability assessment of any competition to date picked the F-35, the Liberals should take notice. The operational assessment scored the F-35 higher than Gripen and the other competitors. This result reflects what was reported after the Swiss chose the F-35 earlier this year. In the case of Finland, the threat of Russia and their shared 1400 km border, means that operational capability, effectiveness, and survivability are critical issues. Finns have been invaded twice and are not nearly as complacent about protecting themselves as Canadians are.
So, F-35 is the most capable operating in a cold, austere climate (hmmm…. sound vaguely Canadian?), better than Gripen.
OK…but so what? No one in Canada really cares about capability and only a few Canadian news outlets even reported that Finland had selected the F-35. The Canadian news media is fatigued with the fighter conversation after a decade plus covering this saga and after all these years, there is a very real media bias against the F-35. Besides, so many Canadians think that Big Brother, south of the border, will save us from the Russians and Chinese, especially in the arctic. Let’s just buy the least expensive option, especially if it gives a boost to industry in regions historically hard hit.
“No offer was significantly less expensive than others in operating and sustainment costs.” (according to the official Finnish government response).
What? Impossible. We have heard about how much cheaper Gripen would be to purchase and operate. How is this possible? The answer from the Finns is that the F-35 is not more expensive to procure and operate after all. Denmark reported this years ago, lately Switzerland and now Finland. Armchair quarterbacks, critics funded by competitors and F-35 haters have been corrected yet again.
How will the new minority Liberal government stickhandle through the contradictions and untruths that they were told over the past 6 years in power? F-35 is the best choice in Finland, a climate like Canada’s, but in an operating theatre far more deadly. F-35 is the most cost effective for the Finnish Air Force, cheaper than the Swedish-built Saab Gripen. Note that the Finland F-35 price was higher than what Canada will pay because Finland is not an F-35 partner and is subject to a US government Foreign Military Sales service fee, somewhere near 5-10% applied to the contract. Even still, the F-35 was cheaper than Saab’s Gripen…. wow.
Oh….and we did not figure out what would be the logistical mess of trying to buy airplane parts for Canadian Gripen fighters, ship them across the ocean in peacetime and then likely be paralyzed during wartime / operational deployments with no supply chain infrastructure. I will buy stock in the shipping firms linked to any Gripen contract with Canada because those companies will be very busy over the years shipping material back and forth from Saab in Sweden and their stock prices will soar as a result.
So better capability, lower cost…seems like best and cheapest option is the F-35. And don’t forget 3000+ F-35s to be built with enduring work for Canadian companies that contribute to the F-35 partnership. That economic impact will go far beyond the 88 jets and short-term ITB work with a Gripen selection that will come and go, atrophying in a couple of years.
If Gripen cannot win against F-35 when it shares a border with Finland, how can it win in Canada when it is an ocean apart, not aligned with NATO, and has no existing defense agreements with Canada? If Gripen was ever going to win, it had to be in Finland, creating a partnership with 2 non-NATO nations and sharing defense of the Scandinavian region. But Gripen lost again. Now F-35s from the US Air Force, Denmark, Norway, and Finland will patrol the arctic and keep the Russians at bay. That is a formidable deterrent and needs Canadian F-35s to complete the alliance.
It certainly doesn’t help that Canadian media ignores this Finnish F-35 decision preventing the Canadian public (and politicians) from understanding the bigger picture. Context and parallel conditions (cold, austere) would help Canadians understand why F-35 really needs to be their future fighter.
Let’s see how the noose closes on the Gripen idea, shutting it down and how the conversation changes about F-35 in Canada. It will be interesting to see how the minority Liberal government softens the ground in the coming weeks / months to make an F-35 decision palatable to their governing partners as well as the rest of Canada.