Putting the “eff” in F-35

Posted April 4th, 2012 in Canada by Adrian MacNair

Hooooo boy.

It’s times like this that I wish my former blogmate Mark Collins was still here because while the F-35 fiasco is well above my pay grade, he’s been dubious of the entire procurement since day one. And while I have to admit that I don’t know enough about fifth generation fighter jet technology to produce more than a few crudely drawn words on a cocktail napkin, it doesn’t take much expertise to realize the defence department just stepped into a Jurassic Park-sized deposit of dino waste.

I’ll be the first to admit it’s rather confusing. I mean, the NDP are asking for defence minister Peter MacKay to resign for not knowing what he should have known, unless in fact he did know, which is much worse, though he claims he absolutely didn’t. Or as one Macleans magazine pundit put it, if a massive abuse of procedure and accountability falls in the forest, but no one is named, blamed and shamed as the culprit, did it ever really happen?

Clearly, somebody, somewhere in the government is due to take a very short walk off a long pier. Do you fire the military commanders who clearly did everything they possibly could to acquire the F-35s without undergoing proper procurement procedures and then fabricating a list of things they needed in a fighter jet so that the list dovetailed nicely with the specs for the F-35?

Or do you fire the people in the defence department who didn’t tell their superiors about the impending mountain of aforementioned dino doo doo about to fall on their heads? Or do you expect the defence minister to accept Thomas Mulcair’s suggestion that the loonie stops at the minister’s desk, and offer his resignation so that Stephen Harper can shuffle him some place else?

Or do you turf Julian Fantino, the man who is currently backing away from the spotlight as quickly and unsubtly as a man wearing orange at a St.Patty’s Day parade? Please don’t look at me, I just work here. One gets the sense, however, as one reads through older news articles quoting Fantino, that the writing has been on the wall for quite some time, and the language of the minister for military procurement had been evolving from certainty about the necessity of F-35s to one very much ambiguous that they might be jets at all, and not flying ponies or something.

The bad news is the Auditor-General’s report puts a giant cannon-sized hole in the F-35 procurement and its budget. The bad news is that the procurement appears to be manipulated to ensure a sole-sourced, untendered contract with Lockheed Martin which has or has not been signed, depending on which part of the government you ask at a certain part of the day.

The bad news is that the defence minister and the procurement minister had no idea about any of this, depending on which part of their mouths you believe when they’re speaking. The bad news is that the defence department itself told the House of Commons that cost data provided by US authorities had been validated by US experts and partner countries, which was not accurate at the time.

Ok, that’s all the bad news. Well, probably not, but it’s probably enough for now. On to the not-so-bad news. The Conservative government, while deservingly drowning in its own arrogance for shouting down those who suggested the whole deal was rotten from the start, is not really complicit in this scandal so much as it is woefully negligent. At the very least they seem to be taking some responsibility now, have frozen spending on the program, spanked the defence department, and handed oversight over to a committee of deputy ministers.

Is it at all ironic that the man whom was hired as part of transparency and accountability legislation brought in by the Conservative government was the one who foreshadowed all of this long ago by saying the government’s numbers on this contract were wrong? And does it make it even more ironic that this same man who estimated the costs were nearly $10 billion greater than the government was saying gets by on a departmental budget of $1.8 million? Perhaps the feds should cut Kevin Page’s budget to $49 and give him coupons to Tim Hortons so he won’t cause so much trouble in the future.

The only actual good news I can pull from all this is that the money for these jets hasn’t yet been wasted, which saves Harper his Airbus A320 moment in power. Which is sort of like finding a wooden plank to float on after stepping off the Titanic. And as Harper is to Rose, who will play the role of Jack, slipping quietly into the deep blue sea?

Despite “Scandals”, Conservatives Still On Top

Posted February 15th, 2011 in Canada by Adrian MacNair

Uh, yeah, the above would be the G20 peepee scandal…

What amazes me about the mini-scandals that beset the Conservatives every so often is that they don’t seem to have very much impact, if at all, on their polling fortunes. As Aaron Wherry wrote in Macleans today, “if making a spectacle of oneself were a fireable offence, Mr. Harper would be without much of his cabinet.” I’m far from a Wherry fan, but sometimes something is funny because it’s true.

Think about it. Of all the members of cabinet who have, at one time or another, made quite the parliamentary debacle, the Conservatives seem unaffected. Look at the latest polling numbers. Today’s Harris Decima survey suggests the party has a 10-point lead on the floundering Liberals. Yesterday, Ipsos Reid gave them a 14-point lead.

Time after time, despite the little setbacks on Team Harper, the big blue machine powers on. Let’s look back over the past five years at the “spectacles”:

Peter MacKay

The whopper of all mini-scandals, Peter MacKay was at the center of the so-called contrived “Afghan detainee abuse scandal.” At the heart of this issue was the question of whether the defence minister knowingly sent Afghan detainees into custody where there was a possibility of there not being high-speed internet service. [Actually, the allegations were that these detainees were being roughed up with shoes and other blunt instruments. MacKay later admitted "there were deficiencies in the arrangement of how we transfer detainees" and overhauled the previous agreement in 2007]

Bonus points for surviving the Belinda Stronach breakup. Woof!

Jason Kenney

The immigration minister’s claim to fame was the alleged ministerial interference in the 2009 decision of the Canada Border Services Agency to bar British MP George Galloway from coming to Ontario, British Columbia and Québec, where he planned to give a series of speeches promoting Palestinian causes. The CBSA denied Galloway’s entry on the grounds of national security for his open financial support of Hamas, a banned terrorist organization. Despite the heated rhetoric, Galloway was able to visit Canada in 2010 without much ado, ironically following a heinous incident in which rightwing commentator Ann Coulter was blocked from speaking at the University of Ottawa by loudmouthed and angry leftwing activists.

Bonus points for ignoring the smear that he had personally excised information about same-sex marriage legalization and the decriminalization of homosexuality in the new Citizenship and Immigration study guide for immigrants.

Tony Clement

Fake lake! Fake lake! Nobody could forget that one last summer, when the press got wind of Clement’s reflecting pool, the media practically made it trend on Twitter overnight. As it turns out the fake lake cost a mere $57,000, or slightly less than the costs from the G8/20.

Bonus points for refusing to fund heroin addiction with taxpayer dollars, despite the avarice from the left.

Gerald Keddy

There’s not much say beyond this:

Colin Mayes, too.

Lawrence Cannon

This one I’m actually not too happy about, though it didn’t seem to really resonate with Canadians that much. Cannon refused to provide an emergency passport to Canadian Abousfian Abdelrazik, who had been stranded in Sudan for six years, despite it being clearly unconstitutional. Abdelrazik sued Cannon for $3-million upon his return to Canada, alleging misfeaseance in public office, intentional infliction of mental suffering and violation of his Charter rights. He has a good chance to win the money if a previous ruling by Justice Zinn of the Federal Court is any indication:

“Had it been necessary to determine whether the breach was done in bad faith, I would have had no hesitation making that finding on the basis of the record before me.”

Jim Flaherty

Scandals? Maybe not. But promising not to run a deficit in the 2008 election and then adding $169 billion worth of debt by 2015 is, I think you will agree, huge chutzpah.

Oh, and the income trust reversal is a bonus mark.

Pierre Poilievre

In May 2009 Poilievre was accused of having used the term “tar baby” in the House of Commons knowing the slang reference of the word to mean an epithet for black people. In fact, Poilievre was referring to a policy of carbon taxation that Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff was proposing.

Jean-Pierre Blackburn

The Jonquière MP was thoroughly interrogated in the House of Commons by Liberal MP Wayne Easter over an alleged incident that took place on Feb. 23, 2010 in an Ottawa airport. Blackburn, apparently, had wanted to bring a bottled of Tequila onto an aircraft, but it contravened Transport Canada security regulations. While Conservative-haters ran with the allegation that he had caused a scene, most Canadians who have actually been through airport “security” fully sympathized.

Rona Ambrose

The former environment minister was the first cabinet minister to walk through the Kyoto ring of fire, and though she survived the burning heat from tar-sands screaming lunatics for a full year, Harper shuffled her out of the portfolio in 2007.

Bonus points for quietly reemerging as one of the most influential and dependable members of cabinet, taking on Helena Guergis’s role after she was booted from the caucus for reasons yet unexplained.

Bev Oda

Moving right along…

Lisa Raitt

The former minister of natural resources can thank the incompetence of former aide Jasmine MacDonnell, who accidentally taped Raitt calling isotopes “sexy” and then left the tape in a CTV News Ottawa office for a week before the media finally felt obligated to run the story.

Though moved to the lower profile Labour Ministry, bonus points to Raitt for surviving the incident, and I think everybody can be grateful she unseated the bloviating Garth Turner in Milton.

Gerry Ritz

Briefly ran into trouble when he said on August 30, 2008, in response to the listeriosis outbreak “this is like a death by a thousand cuts. Or should I say cold cuts.” And when told of a death in Prince Edward Island, Ritz said, “Please tell me it’s (Liberal MP) Wayne Easter.” Though he apologized for the insensitive remarks, some of us secretly guffawed for the Easter crack.

Dona Cadman

She’s mainly in this list because of Cadmangate, or whatever the hell they were calling it, the controversy surrounded allegations she made about her late husband Chuck Cadman. He had reportedly told her prior to a crucial vote in the House of Commons that two Conservative Party officials offered a bribe in exchange for his vote to bring down the Liberal government in May 2005.

Though the story had legs for a while, it was finished in March 2008 when Dona Cadman herself stated publicly she believed Harper when he denied any bribe was proffered.

Maxime Bernier

What list would be complete without Mad Max’s wild crash and burn with former girlfriend Julie Couillard? Although it was initially revealed that Couillard had previous ties to the Hells Angels bike gang without too much incident, the guano really hit the rotisserie when Bernier admitted he had left sensitive briefing notes for an upcoming NATO meeting at Couillard’s house after breaking up with her. Foreign Affairs was completely unaware of the missing papers for a full five weeks.

Despite this setback, Bernier has reemerged as one of the most influentially vocal advocates for fiscal conservatism in the Conservative Party.

If I’ve forgotten any “scandals”, and of course I’ve omitted Stephen Harper in the interests of keeping this below 10,000 words, I’m sure you can add them in the comments.

F-35 “glitches”? My big, fat, flipping foot, Part 2

Posted December 16th, 2010 in Canada, Technology, united states by MarkOttawa

Poor Peter MacKay (note the US GAO report near end at link) might do well to read this post by CDN Aviator at Milnet.ca:

The December issue of “Air Forces Monthly” summed up the issues with the F-35 program pretty well i think. In summary ( i dont have a digital copy, sorry) :

- A rapid and major redisign to save weight occured in 2004-2005 led to an 18-month delay and follow-on issues;

- Prototype AA-1 is now unrepresentative of the planned production model

- AA-1 suffered a critical electrical failiure on may 3rd, 2007 and has remained dogged with problems inducing further delays in the tet program;

- All versions of the F-35 are suffering from cooling nd thermal management issues. This resulted in the F-35B requiring a major re-design of the lift-fan doors;

- The F-35C was designed with a hamilton Sundstrand power generator that, reportedly, supplies only 65% of the required electrical output;

- The F-35 is now at tyre-limiting speeds due to an increase in T/O speed;

- The US defence Contract management Agency has found that the project is in serious disaray with design changes and on-time delivery by 3rd party suppliers;

- In August 2010, LM admited to production problems where key parts of the wing were delivered well after the wing had already been installed. This required the wing to be partially disassembeld and forced LM to slow production;

- F-35 flight testing has acheived less in 4 years, with more aircraft, than F-22 testing accomplished in 3 years;

- F-35 OT&E is 13 months behing schedule. This is 13 months behind the schedule established in May 2008, a schedule that was already 18 months behing what was established in 2001. this means a 4 year program delay;

- Flight testing has failed to hit its objectives in 2008 and 2009;

- Most of the SDD aircraft are at least 6 months late flying;

- Mission system test aircraft delays have been more serious despite the use of the B737 CATB;

- There are growing concerns that the F-35 will enter service well before OT&E is completed. This has obvious follow-on effects and will likely result in lenghty modifications programs;

- The US Congressional research Service identified a cost growth of 38% for the F-35 between 2001 and 2007. This put the cost of an F-35 ( minus R&D) at 81.2 million dollars 9 original LM estimates were a $50M flyaway cost). Further GAO evaluation put the F-35 cost ( without R&D) at $112M;

- Only certification by the Sec. Def. that the F-35 was essential to national security (and that no other alternatives exist) has allowed the program to survive N-M cancellation;

- RAND corporation estimates cost of an F-35A at $108.7M, the F-35B/C at $127M. This is very close to the $138M production cost for an F-22;

- F-35 operating and support costs will be significantly higher that the fighters it replaces ( in stark contrast to what L-M was promising). The USN now estimates that the costs of F-35 ownership will be 40% higher than that of the “legacy” Hornets and harriers;

- There are still serious concerns WRT to exactly what will be delivered to international JSF partners;

- The F-35′s small weapons load is of growing concern to USAF officials;

- The F-35B will not be able to operate in the same conditions that the AV-8 could.

Anyways, not advocating anything here, just posting a bit of a summary of issues.


F-35: UK making out like bandits? MND MacKay “blowing smoke out his tailpipe”/Dutch Update

Posted December 9th, 2010 in Canada, International, Technology, united states by MarkOttawa

From the end of an earlier post:

Canadian Government has no idea what the F-35 will cost…/Video Upperdate/What LM said Uppestdate

The Brits, for their part, are reducing their planned F-35 buy, probably severely. UK companies have the largest share of non-US F-35 work. Will that be reduced with the Brits’ much smaller F-35 acquisition? That’s what Mr Burbage [Executive Vice-President and General Manager F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Program Integration] said would happen to Canadian companies if we do not buy the F-35.  And if we do buy the plane will our firms pick up some of that UK business? That would follow Mr Burbage’s logic.  One wishes an MP had asked the question; and one wishes our media would…

Now we read in the Daily Telegraph:

BAE also works on the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) [more here], which Britain will now buy fewer of. However, the company has an 18pc share of the whole JSF programme, an aircraft that is designed to become the mainstay of the US Air Force. As a result, as many as 3,000 of the fighters could be built. BAE’s workshare is not dependent on the size of the UK order.

Talk about a sweetheart deal.  More from that earlier post:

[David] Burt [director for air requirements] conceded the $70-million to $78-million price tag per plane is not guaranteed. It could rise or fall, he said, depending on the timing of the delivery. Lockheed Martin has only recently started the F-35’s mass-production process. The earlier the slot in which an aircraft is produced, the more costly it is [emphasis added, our government says the Air Force will start receiving the planes in 2016--when full-rate production will just be starting and the full-rate price will therefore be at its highest].

Burt added that commodities prices and other factors could also drive up prices. “But they could also drive prices down,” he noted.

Talk about grasping at refuelling nozzles…And now we read:

F-35s will be on time, on budget, MacKay told

…Mr. MacKay said he is convinced that the program is on budget after holding discussions with U.S. Defence Secretary Robert Gates and senior Lockheed-Martin officials while on an industrial visit with Canadian manufacturers. He said orders are pouring in [emphasis added], which will keep costs down for the Canadian government, which is already in the queue [read on to see what happened regarding Norway and the F-35; there's more here on that]…

The good minister is really getting a snow job given the US government’s own public concerns about F-35 costs, more here.  He’s also really blowing smoke out his tailpipe–there is only one recent order, a real contract that is, for 31 planes, all for the US except one for the UK.  That is unless one includes the give-away to Israel.

Update: Looks like the Dutch government is rather better informed, and more realistic (honest?), than ours:

Netherlands Sees Big JSF Cost Jump

More here.


Fighting the good fight for Afghans–and all of us

Posted November 16th, 2010 in Afghanistan, Canada by MarkOttawa


Afstan is about more than assembling “a coherent narrative”

Now I congratulate the efforts of the Canada-Afghanistan Solidarity Committee (disclosure: I am a founding member but not involved in their actual work); I believe they really had an effect. I congratulate those politicians, Bob Rae in particular, who put purpose over partisanship. And I congratulate the government for finally doing the best that could be done given Canadian politics (though I do regret their lying for many months when they said that Canada’s military–not combat–mission must end in 2011 because the 2008 Commons’ motion said so; it did not). Canadian politics are desperately debased all around.

Terry Glavin expresses both passion and reason on how things have developed:

‘If Ye Break Faith With Us Who Die, We Shall Not Sleep.’

The two-year paralysis that so utterly enfeebled Canada in the matter of this country’s post-2011 re-dedication to Afghanistan is now officially over. Ottawa has come out of its coma, and now rejoins the company of the grown-ups in the 43-member International Security Assistance Force. With today’s announcement, we take our place once again as a leader in the international cause of a sovereign and democratic Afghan republic…

We should recall that for two full years the House of Commons Special Committee on Afghanistan refused to discharge its duties, in contempt of the Parliament by which its duties were assigned. Instead, it turned itself into a lurid chamber for the most foul (and groundless) “torture” allegations against members of the Canadian Forces. It had become like some kind of celebrity television show where the contestants were challenged to find ways to put the name of a cabinet minister in the same sentence with the words “war criminal.”

It’s finally over.

The Canada-Afghanistan Solidarity Committee spent much of the past year running a national campaign to try and help break the Parliamentary paralysis with a new vision for Canada’s role in Afghanistan. Our work took us back and forth from Kabul, Ottawa, Toronto, Kabul, Mazar-e-Sharif, Ottawa, Toronto, Halifax, Montreal, Regina, Saskatoon, Calgary, Ottawa, Edmonton, Winnipeg, and Ottawa again. Hundreds of Afghans and Canadians (especially Afghan-Canadians) were directly involved in the effort. Among them were Canadian soldiers and the parents of dead soldiers, Canadian and Afghan journalists, Afghan MPs, women’s rights activists, academics, diplomats, Afghan Opposition leaders and not a few cookie-baking United Church women.

I would like to think we made some small contribution to keeping the debate alive at least, but no matter. All credit goes to Liberal Foreign Affairs Critic Bob Rae, Defence Minister Peter MacKay, House Special Committee on Afghanistan leader Laurie Hawn, Pamela Wallin and Romeo Dellaire of the Senate Committee on National Security and Defence, and not a few other Parliamentarians from all parties who would probably prefer that their names be left unmentioned for the moment…

It is right and proper that Canada’s first “key area” of post-2011 engagement refers to investments in education and health. But it is worrisome in the extreme that Canada’s new 950-trainer contribution has been merely tacked on to what was first articulated as a priority for “advancing the rule of law and human rights.” This is the thing that should be galvanizing our attention now. One purpose cannot be put at the expense of the other. It is not clear whether the “training role” will be funded at least partly by robbing Peter to pay Paul.

It is more than just a good thing that Canada’s military will continue to put its broad shoulders to the wheel of building up the capacity, competence and professionalism of the Afghan National Security Forces. But we must not allow this to come at the cost of the covenant that has been written in the blood of so many Canadian soldiers already. This is the solemn covenant that binds Canada to the Afghan people. It is the heart of the whole bloody, grisly matter…

If you need further proof of why Canadian public debate on Afstan is so debased, see what pathetic pundit Greg Weston has been up to economizing with words and thus the truth (and he’s just got a paid gig at the CBC; go figure, it ain’t that hard). From the invaluable BruceR. at Flit (to whom one should pay close attention on things Afghan; he’s been there with the Army, done that, and knows more about the country and counterinsurgency than all our punditocracy stuffed together inside a television studio):

On the flip side, you have the CBC’s Greg Weston doing a real drive-by on the subject, gutting a key phrase out of a Gen. (retd.) Rick Hillier piece, apparently only to score cheap points.

In a recent interview with Maclean’s magazine, retired general Rick Hillier said: “You can come up with all kinds of schemes to hide away in camp and train people for the Afghan army, but they lack credibility. If you try to help train and develop the Afghan army … you are going to be in combat.”

Nice ellipses, Greg. The full quote, with the piece that makes all the difference:

If you try to help train and develop the Afghan army or police in southern Afghanistan you are going to be in combat.

As a former Afghan army trainer in southern Afghanistan, I would tend to agree. But this simply isn’t what was being floated by the government, which was quite clearly all about exploring an expanded role outside the south. Given that it’s a web piece where length doesn’t matter, there’s no real reason Weston and the CBC couldn’t have been honest with their readers…

And if you think Kabul is some kind of death-ridden combat zone, please, please take a look at these very recent posts and photos by Brian Platt at the Ubyssey–a fellow completely outside any wire. One can only wonder why almost all journalists from our major media have ignored and misrepresented reality for so long. And still do.

Afghanistan is about more than Canadian domestic politics.  Really.  We do need to grow up.

Update thought: What was most sadly reflective about this country’s chatterers is that on the politics shows on television early this evening there was nothing, rien de tout, nichts, ništa said about the Afghans or developments in the country except in relation to Canada, or about how the Afghan and ISAF military efforts are going. All Canada, all the time. We must have the world’s most capacious bellybutton at which we endlessly gaze; and far too many brains have been stuffed with its lint.

So long as the Canadians fight tribe against tribe, so long will they be a little people, a silly people…


Sure beats Belinda…

Posted November 12th, 2010 in Canada, International by MarkOttawa

and hotter than Maximum Max’s:

And lots of smarts. Too much.


The F-35 may take a bit of US budget kicking

Posted November 10th, 2010 in Canada, Technology, united states by MarkOttawa

Them costs, them costs:

White House Commission: Kill The F-35B

A draft document issued by the White House commission on reducing the federal deficit recommends scrapping the F-35B short-take-off, vertical landing (STOVL) fighter outright…

The proposals, contained in a supplement to a $3.8 trillion plan unveiled today, are not final and do not have any legislative force…

The F-35B is not the only Joint Strike Fighter version to be hit. The commission calls for production of the USAF F-35A and Navy F-35C to be cut in half in the years up to FY2015 [emphasis added], with the cancelled buys to be replaced by F-16s and F/A-18s…

I wonder if poor Peter thinks these might be just more glitches. And that we will start receiving our F-35As in 2016 with an average production cost of $74.5-million each.

Update: So we pay all that stealthy money for six expeditionary fighters? Even if twelve, such a contribution hardly seems worth it in any rational Canadian strategic military perspective; and will surely add very little practically to any serious coalition endeavour to which Canada might contribute against what is currently called a “peer” opponent.  Please think about it seriously.

Upperdate: The Canadian Air Force eventually deployed 18 CF-18s for the Kosovo/Serbia campaign–from a fighter strength far greater than 65.  Interoperable enough it would seem, even though the USAF and NATO allies (with one exception) have never flown Hornets.


Afstan: So maybe the government will keep some CF after all

Posted November 7th, 2010 in Afghanistan, Canada, International, united states by MarkOttawa

Further to this post,

Afstan: Some reactions to, and consequences of, Canada’s bugging out/Fighting Germans Update

Prime Minister Harper may be beginning to see the light; a trial balloon is clearly being floated–in the Liberal-friendly Toronto Star–to smoke out political, pundit and public reaction:

Troops may stay in Afghanistan as ‘trainers’

Canadian troops could remain “behind the wire” in Afghanistan involved in training local troops after their combat mission ends next summer, the Star has learned.

While the Conservative government is holding firm that the combat mission will end in 2011, one of three options emerging is that some soldiers could remain in the troubled nation, well away from combat zones, as trainers.

The other two potential roles on the table are aid and development, a senior government official told the Star.

There are roughly 3,000 soldiers involved in Canada’s Afghan mission [details here on Joint Task Force Afghanistan]. The size of the training contingent would be “much smaller” and would be away from Kandahar, a hotbed of the insurgency, the official said….

Despite diplomatic pressure from NATO allies to extend its military mission in Kandahar, Canada is making it clear that a continued combat role is one option that’s not up for negotiation.

Canada has been under pressure from NATO and key allies to remain in Kandahar…

Officials have already briefed the Liberals in their role as the official opposition about the options being considered, suggesting the Conservatives are hoping to avoid a bitter partisan fight over the future of Canada’s biggest foreign policy priority.

Conservatives have taken note of comments by both Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff and Liberal MP Bob Rae, the party’s foreign affairs critic, suggesting their party would be open to a continued Afghan role for Canada.

Ignatieff used a major foreign policy speech in June to call for Canada to commit itself to a training mission to help the Afghan police and military [more here]…

Lets just hope the government and Liberals can both act like grown-ups and do the right thing. As for Kandahar, I have heard from someone well up on Canadian activities in Afstan that the government is currently planning to remove all or almost all Canadian civilians and civilian police from Kandahar as the CF withdraw, and have our civilians based in Kabul. So there goes Canadian participation in the PRT. The Americans will certainly notice the elimination of a Canadian presence on the ground in the tough places and draw their own conclusions. But CF trainers would certainly counterbalance and more any negative impression.

Update: MND MacKay adds some hot air (all it is for now) to keep the balloon in the air:

Canada is considering NATO and allied requests to keep troops in Afghanistan past 2011 to conduct non-combat training missions, Defence Minister Peter MacKay said Sunday.

MacKay said the government would likely make a decision in the coming weeks in the run-up to the Nov. 18 NATO leaders’ summit in Portugal.

MacKay stressed that any such mission would take place out of Kandahar province, where fighting is fiercest and would be “behind the wire” – military parlance for non-combat mission…

Now perhaps an adult discussion may ensue since the government is starting to come clean. At least partly, one imagines, as a result of some very serious pressure indeed from some particularly close and important allies. Good on them.  The allies that is.

More background from Brian Stewart (a recent military reporting award winner) of the CBC:

It could soon be much harder for the Harper government to tiptoe away from the NATO combat mission in Afghanistan next year.

Later this month (Nov. 19-20), NATO leaders hold their long-anticipated Strategic Summit to thrash their way forward on a wide range of issues.

Afghanistan will be very much front and centre and, according to high-level talk in Ottawa this past week, our main allies have no intention of easing Canada’s way home.

Indeed, there’s increased speculation that the U.S., Britain and other Western powers will use the bilateral meetings that go along with the summit to try and change the prime minister’s mind about the Canadian withdrawal.

They are not asking for a complete about-face but they still want hundreds of Canadians left behind as military trainers and frankly believe that Canada still owes NATO that much…

No one, of course, underestimates the challenge of changing Stephen Harper’s mind on anything. He has said very publicly that he has no intention of leaving any military forces behind after next summer, apart from perhaps a few embassy guards…

Here’s hoping.


F-35 “glitches”? My big, fat, flipping foot

Posted November 6th, 2010 in Canada, International, Technology, united states by MarkOttawa

The Minister of National Defence simply refuses to recognize that the F-35 is a seriously troubled program.  That’s why US defense secretary Gates fired the general in charge in February.  And the program continues to face delays and increasing costs–please look again at these posts this week:

Bad news for the F-35–and for Canada?”

F-35: Lockheed Martin ‘fesses up/A “wink and a nod” Update

F-35 woes: “A Shocking And Unexpected Development”/Canadian Predate

Yet now we read this pap from the minister; he could be headed for a political fall:

F-35 ‘glitches’ won’t affect Canadian fighter jet order, MacKay says

Rising costs and delays are again plaguing development of the next generation fighter aircraft that the Harper government is buying from the United States – but Canada’s Defence Minister insists this country’s F-35 jet order remains unaffected by these “glitches.”

U.S. aircraft maker Lockheed Martin’s CEO warned this week that development of the F-35s will likely take more time and money to complete…

Defence Minister Peter MacKay said Lockheed Martin has assured his department that these problems are not afflicting the basic version of the F-35 fighter that Canada has ordered…

“What our department officials are telling us – who are in direct contact with Lockheed – is that this will not affect the Canadian costs nor will it affect delivery time,” the minister said in an interview.

“We are being told that the conventional aircraft is on time and on budget.”

The Harper government has found few defenders outside of the aerospace and defence communities for a controversial decision in July to commit to buying 65 new fighter jets without a competitive bidding process. The purchase will require an initial commitment of $9-billion and an estimated $7-billion in the decades ahead for support and maintenance…

The Canadian government says the production cost of each F-35 will average $74.5-million (U.S.) – but other obligations such as spare parts, simulators, and program management costs mean that the full package works out to $138-million per jet. It also estimates the annual maintenance price tag for the jets will total $250-million, on par with the current bill for the aging CF-18 planes…

Trusting blindly in what Lockheed Martin says has not proved a sensible thing to do so far.  The minister says there are no delays for the US Air Force’s F-35A version the government is planning to get?  And the delivery date for us won’t be affected?  Our first aircraft are supposed to arrive in 2016.  So we are going to get them before they’re in full operational USAF service, since “…development of the conventional take-off and landing F-35A and carrier-based F-35C will be extended by one year to 2017.”  Sure, Peter.

As for our cost per aircraft not rising.  In 2016/17 the plane will not be at full production rate (and probably not for a while thereafter).  Costs for early production aircraft are always greater than later on as economies of scale are achieved with increased rate of build and as the construction learning curve takes effect.   There is no way, if we buy the planes in the time-frame now envisaged by the government, that we will get them at a (comparatively) cheap full-rate production cost–which is what the $74.5 million (U.S.) price per plane must represent.  And we definitely will not get them cheaper than the USAF is paying.

Long term support and maintenance of the aircraft is supposed to cost us $7 billion but “…Pentagon cost analysts now estimate the JSF may be as much as 1 1/2 times more expensive to maintain than the warplanes it will replace.”  So what will our costs really be?

The government moreover touts the gazillions of dollars Canadian companies will make from total sales of up to 5,000 planes as a major reason for our buying the F-35.  Sure.  Look at this:

A prime Canadian F-35 ostrich

And note that

…further delays are likely to accelerate the recent trend in which international customers – including Norway, the Netherlands and the U.K. – have decided to delay commitments and orders. The new Congress may also slow U.S. acquisitions to avoid an increase in concurrency, or the overlap of production and development…

Remember that only some 4,400 F-16s have been sold, with a much broader customer base than now envisaged for the F-35.

Mr MacKay seems to be living in a dreamland. He would do well to look at this March 2010 United States Government Accountability Office report:

The JSF program is still recovering from earlier problems—extensive design changes, late parts deliveries, and inefficient manufacturing practices—that continue to delay aircraft deliveries. The prime contractor has restructured the manufacturing schedule three times since 2007 and a fourth revision is under way. Each revision has lengthened the time to deliver aircraft to the test program. As of December 2009, the contractor had delivered only 4 of 13 development test aircraft, 2 CTOL aircraft (including the original non-production representative model) [those two planes are now in testing] and 2 STOVL aircraft. Delivery of the first CV test aircraft is now expected in March 2010. Contractor and program officials now expect to complete delivery of all test aircraft at the end of 2010. Prior plans had expected delivery of almost all aircraft by 2009…[p. 14]

Given the ongoing engineering and manufacturing challenges, the program will have difficulty meeting its current procurement plans…[p. 20]

Steadily lengthening schedules to complete key system develop efforts further exacerbates the already extreme overlap among development, test, and production activities. Late deliveries of development test aircraft and less productivity than planned have slowed development flight testing and resulted in the program missing important milestones. The restructuring directive to add four aircraft to supplement the development flight test program, if implemented, should significantly increase test capacity and lessen concurrency with operational testing, but officials agree that flight plans are still aggressive. Other technical challenges abound, including (1) relying on an extensive but largely unproven and unaccredited network of ground test laboratories and simulation models to evaluate system performance, (2) continuing challenges in developing and integrating very large and complex software requirements essential to JSF capabilities, and (3) maturing several technologies that are essential to meet operational performance and logistical support requirements. Collectively, these testing and developmental challenges can be expected to lead to additional delays and increased program costs… [emphasis added, p. 22]

…Risks are manifold—mounting cost and schedule pressures; complex, extensive, and unproven software requirements; and a nascent, very aggressive test program that continues to experience significant delays. Since our last report, development costs have again increased and the schedule for completing development and operational testing has been extended. Further acquisition cost increases and delays are expected. Impacts on production are uncertain, but increased manufacturing labor hours and late deliveries of development aircraft indicate that learning curve efficiencies are not meeting expectations and will likely result in higher future procurement unit prices than those currently reported to Congress…[p. 32]

Things do not seem to be looking up much, do they?  Can’t wait for

…the technical baseline review (TBR) that was launched by the new director of the JSF Program Office, Vice Adm. Dave Venlet. He succeeded Marine Maj. Gen. David Heinz, who was dismissed and has since retired. The TBR supports a Defense Acquisition Board (DAB) review of the program that is due on Nov. 22 [emphasis added]…

Predate: More broadly on operational requirements, starting with the Chief of the Air Staff:

Canada and the F-35: Two views…


Afstan: Just say “no” to NATO/CIA Great Gaming, Canadian terrorist “shocker” Update/US AfPak docs Upperdate

Posted September 23rd, 2010 in Afghanistan, Canada, International, united states by MarkOttawa

That would seem to be this government’s likely answer, unless the Liberals (odd it should have come to that) take some sort of initiative themselves to encourage the extension in some form of our Afghan mission.  By the way, Canada is saying “no” to the UN too, nice eh?  From a story by Matthew Fisher of Postmedia News:

NATO official to press feds for post-2011 help training Afghans

KABUL — NATO’s ambassador to Afghanistan is flying 11,000 kilometres to Ottawa late next week to try to convince the Harper government that the alliance badly needs military trainers to school Afghan security forces and that Canada is ideally suited to provide them after its combat mission in Kandahar ends on July 1, 2011.

“I will speak to Canada about the overall progress of the campaign and where we think the shortfalls are and where we need additional resources and rebalancing,” Mark Sedwill said in an interview Wednesday at NATO’s fortress-like headquarters in the Afghan capital.

“Any decision that Canada makes now or in the future to continue to provide input on the military or civilian side would be tremendously welcome and not only because of the political importance of Canada.

“Canada has a first-rate army and with the experience of combat on the ground in Kandahar that army has been tested and tempered in the most difficult circumstances. Canada’s skills in training, as in every other area of military competence are first rate.”

The visit to Parliament Hill by Sedwill, who has served in the region for many years as a senior British diplomat, is part of a concentrated, multi-pronged strategy by NATO and its biggest players to persuade Prime Minister Stephen Harper of the crucial importance they attach to Canada maintaining some kind of military role in Afghanistan, which is slated to drop from nearly 3,000 troops to zero next year.

In a clear sign of the high importance that NATO and the U.S. attach to recruiting more trainers from across the alliance, U.S. President Barack Obama and NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen considered ways to tackle the training shortfalls when they met last week in Washington [interview with Mr Rasmussen here, plus more on other NATO members and trainers here]…

While NATO was acutely aware of the political “sensitivity” in Ottawa of what Sedwill referred to as this “delicate issue,” he said that “I don’t regard the door closed with Canada or any other country.”..

A resolution passed by Parliament [actually just the Commons] early in 2008 stated that Canada’s military mission in Kandahar must end next summer. However, the motion left open the possibility that troops could be deployed elsewhere in Afghanistan after that date [whereas the government lies and maintains the motion requires a complete withdrawal from the whole country, more on that at the middle of this post]. The House’s defence committee has called for a debate this fall on Canada’s military role after the Kandahar mission closes.

The Liberal party formally decided several months ago that it backed Canadian troops staying on in a training role here after next year. Many Conservatives are known to be of a like mind as the Liberals, but until now the prime minister has insisted that all the troops must come home.

NATO would not make a specific demand for troops when he visits Canada’s capital, Sedwill said. But it is an open secret that NATO would like Ottawa to contribute at least several hundred military trainers to teach in Afghan army and police academies.

Such an assignment would not involve the far more dangerous work of mentoring Afghan forces in the field [emphasis added]. It would also cost a tiny fraction of the current combat mission…

…the number of Canadian casualties has dipped sharply this year [emphasis added, how come that has not been more widely reported?] as its task force’s area of operations has shrunk to two, still very dangerous districts to the west of Kandahar City, after a huge influx of U.S. troops into the south of the country [more on current American operations here].

One wonders whether Prime Minister will have the political courage to stand up for Afghanistan–and Canada. Earlier:

Afstan: Even the Toronto Star seems open to keeping some Canadian troops

Afstan flash: One and half cheers for Peter MacKay/Dipper Update

Meanwhile back at the front in Afstan:

Afghanistan security ‘deteriorating:’ Feds

OTTAWA — Afghanistan’s security situation is “deteriorating,” with a rise in insurgent violence and intimidation of civilians, according to a new report on the war by the Harper government [report available here].

The latest quarterly report by the government, which covers the period from April 1 to June 30, also notes the assassination of several Afghan officials and an “early escalation of the fighting season.”

“This quarter was marked by a deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan, with increasing insurgent violence and intimidation targeting civilians, the assassination of several officials from Afghan government institutions and civil society, and an early escalation of the fighting season,” states the report, referring to the security situation as “increasingly volatile.”..

Despite the increasing violence, the report notes that Canada has made progress on a number of fronts. For example, the report notes that Afghan National Army forces have doubled in the dangerous Zhari district of Kandahar province, although the ANA’s overall capacity remained “unchanged,” according to the report.

Among other signs of progress, workers cleared 52,000 cubic metres of silt as part of the refurbishment of the Dahla Dam in Kandahar province, one of Canada’s “signature” reconstruction projects.

Three schools were refurbished with the help of Canadian Forces, bringing the number of refurbished schools to 19. More than 390,000 children in Kandahar received vaccinations for polio through a Canadian program…

Update: While on the covert front the CIA is even more active than generally thought (and doing some Great Gaming):

Paramilitary force is key for CIA

On an Afghan ridge 7,800 feet above sea level, about four miles from Pakistan, stands a mud-brick fortress nicknamed the Alamo. It is officially dubbed Firebase Lilley, and it is a nerve center in the covert war against the Taliban and al-Qaeda.

The CIA has relied on Lilley, part of a constellation of agency bases across Afghanistan, as a hub to train and deploy a well-armed 3,000-member Afghan paramilitary force collectively known as Counterterrorism Pursuit Teams. In addition to being used for surveillance, raids and combat operations in Afghanistan, the teams are crucial to the United States’ secret war in Pakistan, according to current and former U.S. officials.

The existence of the teams is disclosed in “Obama’s Wars,” a forthcoming book by longtime Washington Post journalist Bob Woodward [more here]…

A U.S. official familiar with the operations, speaking on the condition of anonymity, described the teams as “one of the best Afghan fighting forces,” adding that they have made “major contributions to stability and security.”

The official said that the teams’ primary mission is to improve security in Afghanistan and that they do not engage in “lethal action” when crossing into Pakistan. Their cross-border missions are “designed exclusively for intelligence collection,” the official said…

Then there’s this from Norman Spector (keep up the good work, a weekly must-read on Fridays), wonder what details the CIA has today–and is sharing with us:

A shocker for Canadians in Bob Woodward’s book

…we can expect pressure to leave some troops in Afghanistan to increase significantly between now and the NATO meeting in November. But, for Canadians, there’s also, according to the New York Times, a real shocker in the Woodward book – one that should be factored into the debate on Afghanistan as well as other national debates:

“A 2009 President’s Daily Brief and another highly restricted report, Mr. Woodward writes, ‘said that at least 20 al-Qaeda converts with American, Canadian or European passports were being trained in Pakistani safe havens to return to their homelands to commit high-profile acts of terrorism.’

‘They included half a dozen from the United Kingdom, several Canadians, some Germans and three Americans,’ the book continues. ‘None of their names was known’.”

Upperdate: Some very interesting US diplomatic documents from 2001-6 relating to the Pakistani role and situation are quoted in this article at Foreign Policy’s “AfPak Channel”:

Taliban strategy comes full circle


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