One of smartest political speeches in modern times, then candidate Justin Trudeau said: “We will not buy the F-35 fighter jet”. Strategically brilliant; that speech helped pivot an electorate in favor of Liberal party when to that point, polls ran the election as a 3-way race. The Liberal party trounced the Conservatives and came to power, now lasting into the 3rd term.
That promise was never followed through as we now know because F-35 won the competition and Canada will end up buying more 5th Gen fighters than was in the plan back in 2015 (88 instead of 65), spend twice as much budget ($19B instead of $9B) but get a more mature, lethal, survivable fighter ultimately. Many, with myself at the top of the list, were astonished that a government would yet again throw the CAF under the bus. That delay certainly kept the Lockheed Martin F-35 team gainfully employed pursuing Canada for soon-to-be 8 years following that turnaround. I, like many, spent a lot of time in meetings, giving talks and attending all those airshows trying to energize the conversation about why Canada needed the F-35. Thanks to Boeing for screwing up their submission and getting kicked out of the competition. Thank the F-35 program for maturing, dropping the cost of the jet and having such a compelling industrial story for Canadian industry. Oh and thank the timing of the Ukraine invasion, even though the F-35 decision had been made months before, for the announcement that everyone could get behind that Canada needed the F-35 after all. Happy that the RCAF will be getting a new fighter force soon. Is the RCAF ready to take on the F-35?…not even close. Do Canadians have any idea how to mange the security / cyber concerns that come with housing a 5th Gen fighter?….not even close. What we all know from being in the program is that for those on the outside, as the saying goes “You don’t know what you don’t know”. It will be a brutal and ugly start but I have faith that the RCAF will adapt quickly, learn from the US Air Force and partner nations and scramble to get the F-35 fleet up and running as best they can. The one advantage, different from the CF-18 early days, is that they can learn from everyone else who has operated the jet for what will be more than a decade.
We all hated that speech in Halifax in mid September 2015 but have to admit, it was a brilliant move and changed the course of that election. Luckily, in the end, Canada bought the right jet and skated away from this saga in pretty good shape.