Canada’s ‘recommitment’ to the F-35 brought military defense of this nation back from the abyss of disinterest, neglect, and atrophy. After such a long period where Canadians did not take defense matters seriously, the signal to continue with the F-35 project was viewed as a welcome change by our closest allies. How could other nations take Canada seriously if we could not take ourselves seriously? The RCAF and Canadian Armed Forces as a whole are now taking the leap to join the 21st century (already underway) and buying into the new generation of defense.
Committing to the F-35 is much, much more than just buying a new fighter jet.
Very few of the 37 million Canadians (who don’t really care about defense) ever ask about how far advancements in technology have transformed the conduct of warfare, right up until Putin invaded Ukraine. That wake-up call made the average Canadian aware that a true, unstable actor existed and that even in the Canadian heartland, all was not safe.
For 15+ years, instead of talking about advancements in military technology and the revolution of capabilities, we were stuck debating 1 versus 2 engines on a fighter, stealth or not, drag chutes or not, and recently Swedish versus American technology, Ikea versus Walmart (ok…maybe a bad example).
What escaped the conversation was how F-35 would be the key enabler of Multi-Domain operations. No one explained how F-35 was to be the primary node for the space force, air force, army, and navy to communicate. Lost in the Saab distraction was how a fighter plane could process data sent from spaceborne assets to prosecute an attack or defend against an adversary. We did not illustrate how F-35 had functioned as a forward partner to effectively target over-the-horizon for a ground-based launch platform. Nowhere in the discussions did anyone elaborate on how an F-35 would be able to link with a P-8 Poseidon or CP-140 Aurora, receive and transmit ISR data, while providing those platforms with more comprehensive Situational Awareness. No one explained how a next generation aerial refueling platform could become an organic component of the communications node, key to passing on massive amounts of data to everyone on the net. Finally, no one summed up how the future of warfare, enabled by F-35 would lead to a networked force collectively focused on an enemy, far more complex a notion than anyone would have imagined, even a decade ago.
Already, F-35 has transformed armed forces from Italy all around to the other side of the earth in Australia.
The transformation of the USMC beginning with V-22, then F-35 and now CH-53K into a truly lethal, mobile force projection capability is an excellent example of what the future holds. Those interested must pick up Robbin F. Laird’s new book, “The U.S. Marine Corps Transformation Path” to read in-depth and understand these concepts far better than I can communicate in a blog entry.
Fighter planes fighting fighter planes goes back to WWI. Fighter planes as part of a massive ground, sea, air, and space multi-national web is on the spectrum of sci-fi. Canada has now joined the nations evolving their armed forces to fight in these multi-domain concepts.
Canada effectively rejoined NORAD after years as the poorly armed, half-committed brother to the North and now to move forward in lockstep with the US to modernize North American defenses. Similarly, joining the club of 5th Gen brings Canada back to operate as true peers with western air forces and allows them to share the cosmic intelligence data that Canada otherwise would never have known existed.
Do 2 Eyes and 5 Eyes partnerships matter? Everyone who lives in a classified world knows that people of the outside “Don’t know what they don’t know.” For so long, many on the inside watched disheartened at the infantile debates in Canada about stealth or no stealth, 5th generation or no generation definitions and could not tell Canadians what they know exists on the other side of that classified curtain. Soon the educated conversations will begin, and Canada will be entrusted as an equal security partner again. The political gaming is not over yet, but a great majority of the antics are finished, and no permanent damage was done. So, do 2 Eyes and 5 Eyes matter? I bet now that everyone knows that WWIII is a real possibility, they realize that all the intel coming from our closest partners about our very real enemies is invaluable!
Big leaps forward are required from the fighter force, the RCAF at so many levels and the Canadian Armed Forces as a whole. The transformation that is coming with the procurement of the F-35 will force a wholesale change of how the business of warfare is conducted in Canada.
Let’s hope everyone in leadership positions can be briefed in as early as possible so that they can understand how to manage this revolution. Let’s hope everyone can let go of the legacy mindsets and indoctrinate themselves into a 5th Gen, multi-domain mindset. The 10-year delay incorporating F-35 into the RCAF will not permit a slow adoption of the 5th Gen technologies as our alliance partners have already moved on this.
Going from Pac-man to the Meta-Verse
This has to be an exciting time for the RCAF and young fighter pilots. They are going to fly a data-gathering spaceship and jump into the 21st century…. from Pac-man to the Meta-Verse. Canadians always believe that they don’t deserve the best, don’t need it. They think of the military as a AAA hockey team instead of wanting an NHL caliber team. The Canadian culture of feeling not deserving, and that we can get by with second best comes from believing that Canada cannot run with the big dogs. Well, there is a cost with that mentality…the cost of the lives of our fighter pilots sent into harm’s way. I don’t want Canada to end up with something mediocre because the risk was always that we would send our men and women into combat with a less capable fighter, and they would not come home.
Having the best really does matter. Luckily, we have skirted that Canadian inferiority complex this time by buying into F-35.
Canada has suffered, and continues to suffer, from an abject failure of leadership, particularly when it comes to matters of military. Trudeau pulled our CF-18 fighter contingent out of Afghanistan because he said “This is not Canada”. Oh really?
What about the two world wars where Canadians stood up to the horrific evils of humanity? Or Korea, and the genocide in the Balkans? Does the 100,000 plus Canadian lives lost in the world conflicts not tell him something?
Canada has an obligation as a country to not only have the ability to defend itself without reliance on the United States or others, but to stand up to the emergence of world evils wherever they may occur.
Trudeau’s approach of him sitting down with the Taliban to share some marijuana and determine the root cause of their discontent is an idea Canadians should have vigorously encouraged.
In the meantime, the rest of us Canadians need to ensure our military is adequately manned, trained and equipped to deal with the thin veneer of civilization that threatens this world.
I’m in full agreement with Canadas need for the F-35 and all the benefits it would bring. I do tend to think the WWIII scenario is bit of a stretch. My layman’s point of view, not knowing everything you have knowledge of, tends to skew towards a Russia or China (or even the Western nations?) going nuclear as soon as it became clear they’re about to lose. The only scenario I can see that would change that outcome would be a miraculous coup to restore some sanity.
I’d love to be proved wrong. PLEASE!
Thanks for your fantastic blog and sharing your perspectives.
Actually the “Ikea versus Walmart” is not such a bad example at all. Ikea furniture is so shitty (pardon my expression) that getting a Gripen is very akin to getting Ikea furniture 😉
Excellent analysis and assessment.
If Canada wants to return to being a serious nation, your words should be heeded.
I can’t say I agree with most of this. While our current equipment is massively out of date, we have been forced into a purchasing decision by Boeing’s abject failure, not the perceived strength of the F-35. I’m ignoring the Grippen; it’s not really an option.
From a Eurocentric confilct position, the F-35 does seem to fit. From a Canadian sovereignty point-of-view it has some notable issues. Single versus double engine absolutely matters. The lack of suitable forward airfields in the north absolutely matter. The ongoing questions about required amounts of 4th line maintenance absolutely matter.
We must purchase new equipment immediately, but I firmly believe we should plan on a less than ten year lifespan for our F-35s and start the process to replace them soonest.
K. Gordon Smith you are about 20 years behind. To help you understand;
– Swiss chose F-35 over the Super Hornet, as did the Finns as well as Canada. Don’t you think that is telling?
– So many nations comfortably, and safely, fly single engined fighter aircraft over ocean and inhospitable terrain far from their home bases. The Canadian case is no different.
– Basing was no different for any of the airframes in the competition.
– Canada actually has more say in the F-35 program compared to the Hornet as they were a participant/partner from 1997 with access they never had with the Hornet program.
Future Canadian acquisitions for this type of airframe should be loyal wingmen type drones to accompany the F-35s. Keep the number of F-35s around 88 but build up a fleet of 200+ loyal wingmen all controlled by F-35. F-35s go out as two ships with four to eight loyal wingment lugged the ordnance and extending the sensor range of the F-35 platform. Connect them all with MADL and it becomes an incredibly potent and information superior force.