Kimball Cariou: $16-billion fighter jet price tag is a Canadian scandal

By Kimball Cariou

Rejecting the view of Canadians that the military budget should be reduced to tackle urgent domestic needs, the Stephen Harper’s Conservative government now plans to spend $9 billion on 65 new fighter jets, plus another $7 billion on “ancillary costs” such as future parts and maintenance. The total price tag has more than quadrupled since 2008, when the government first announced that it would purchase 80 F-35 Joint Strike Fighters from U.S. munitions giant Lockheed Martin for a total of $3.8 billion.

This deal gives new meaning to the term “sticker shock”. Just two years ago, the jets were priced at $47.4 million each. Now the price has jumped to $245 million at a time when the Harper Conservatives are slashing social program spending.

And the waste doesn’t end there. The original plan by the Conservatives was to replace the Canadian Forces’ current fleet of CF-18 fighter jets. Since then, $2.6 billion has been spent to upgrade the CF-18s.

A Commons committee will investigate the purchase of the new fighters, including the price tag and whether Canada actually needs these weapons. But the hearings into the largest military procurement in Canadian history won’t take place for months, and the Harper government plans to move quickly.

Eyebrows have already been raised over the news that there will be no other bids for the contract. In another apparent controversy, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is a single?engine aircraft, which may be a problem for a jet which will be used to patrol the Canadian Arctic. The CF-18s have two engines, which many pilots consider an important safety feature.

A survey conducted in early March by Leger Marketing asked “With Canada’s military role ending in Afghanistan next year, what should the focus be on the government’s military spending?”

Almost 60 percent agreed with this answer: “Canada should take a peace dividend and cut back on military spending to focus on other more pressing social issues at home.” Almost three-quarters of Quebec respondents backed this peace dividend option, compared to 44 percent of Albertans and 55 percent of those in Ontario.

Across the country, 28 percent of people wanted to “sustain or increase spending on the military because security in a post-9/11 world is of the highest priority”. Another 15 percent of respondents did not give an opinion.

“The government has not done what most of Canada wants them to do, which is transfer that [military] funding to programs within our own borders,” Leger vice president Dave Scholz said at the time.

According to the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, “the Canada First Defence Strategy, unveiled by the Harper government in 2008, promises that Canada’s military spending will continue to grow by an average of 0.6% in real terms (adjusted for inflation) and an average of 2.7% in nominal terms (not adjusted for inflation) per year from FY 2007–08 to 2027–28”.

A December 2009 CCPA report states:

This plan would see Canadian military spending increase to about $21.3 billion in 2009 dollars, or about $31.3 billion in 2027 dollars, by FY 2027–28. While this level is only slightly higher than the present level of spending, the incremental costs of operations such as the Afghanistan war, currently more than $1.5 billion per year, would be added on top of this baseline budget, meaning that final spending could be significantly higher.

Total spending over the 20-year life of this plan would likely be in the $415–440 billion range (2009 dollars), or about $13,000 per Canadian, surely enough to cause many Canadians to rethink the notion that their military spending is negligible. The total that would be spent over this period, if Canadian military spending instead remained at its post–Cold War minimum level, is $271 billion (2009 dollars), a difference of $145–170 billion, of which $130–155 billion remains yet to be spent.

The stunning increase in the F-35 deal alone will boost these figures even higher.

Imagine what could be done with such an amount over 20 years! To give just a few examples, the public transportation systems of Canadian cities could be provided with thousands of fuel-efficient new buses for just $5 billion. The cancelled national child-care program could receive $5 billion annually, totalling $100 billion. This would leave at least another $50 billion to build about 250,000 new low-income, social, and co-operative housing units. These initiatives would create jobs, lower greenhouse-gas emissions, and reduce provincial government spending on health and policing linked to the costs of massive street homelessness.

But Canada is governed today by a party which opposes these urgent priorities. The Harper Conservatives deny the environmental crisis, reject the concept of public childcare, and refuse to fund social housing.

In effect, Canada is ruled by a minority regime which places top priority on war-making at the expense of the people. Canadians should send the message to all parties in Parliament that the shocking fighter-jet purchase plan is a scandal and must be scrapped immediately.

Kimball Cariou is the recording secretary for StopWar.ca, Vancouver’s antiwar coalition.

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12 Comments

Lawrence Boxall

Jun 18, 2010 at 10:08am

I'd like some specifics on this security threat that $9 Billion worth of fighter jet requiring $7 Billion in ancillary costs is going to safeguard us against. Vague phrases like "security in a post-9/11 world" are calculated to arrest thinking and replace it with a dense fog of unease. Perhaps a little analysis might suggest alternatives to creating a peaceful world that are more effective than pollution and bullet spewing chunks of steel disturbing the birds in the sky.

Perhaps we could make a contribution to security by spending the money on bringing a little economic justice to the world. How about a quarter of the money goes to those worthy causes listed by Kimball Carlou in this article, a quarter goes to reparations to First Nations in Canada and the remaining half goes to paying reparations to to people in the rest of the world who have been affected by the predatory behaviour of Canadian Corporations in cooperation with Canadian government departments. Haiti comes to mind as a graphic example of the harm that our meddling has done. Maybe we won't have to be fighting in Afghanistan to keep their "terrorists" from coming to Canada, if we give the money we spend on the military to humanitarian projects organized by the people of Afghanistan. Consult Malalai Joya's book if you need ideas on how money can be better spent.

I just think we have to be extremely skeptical about vague phrases like: "security in a post-9/11 world is of the highest priority," which imply that the matter is so urgent, we don't have time to think about it.

give away my money

Jun 18, 2010 at 11:31am

Who gets to fly it or do we all get to take turns.

Kimball Cariou

Jun 18, 2010 at 2:21pm

Lawrence Boxall is certainly correct to be skeptical about the post-9/11 security propaganda. The encouraging news is that after nearly a decade of scaremongering along these lines, the Leger poll indicated that Canadians prefer the "peace dividend" option by a margin of two to one. This shows that people are quite capable of reaching their own conclusions, despite attempts by the government, the armed forces, and much of the big business media to convince us otherwise.

Randy Merz

Jun 18, 2010 at 3:10pm

Hey there "give away the money"!! The only person we want to flying the F35 is Harper himself. From what I hear that plane is a death trap and just about the worst designed fighter plane in US history. Could that be why the US Air Force and US Navy reduced their orders for it by 75%? Let's strap that bible-thumping yokel in, lock-out the ejection system so he can't bail, fire up the engines to max thrust, key in a ballistic trajectory that terminates smack dab in the middle of parliament, pat him on the head, press the Enter key, and run like hell.

Aviation enthusiast.

Jun 19, 2010 at 1:19pm

If the euro was weaker I'd ask for Eurofighter Typhoons rather than F35's. On the other hand, I hear that Bolivia is having a garage sale, maybe we can pick up something newer than a Sea King?

Still, multi-role combat fighting FTW.

Mike Born

Jun 21, 2010 at 11:00am

How and where do you come up with these cost numbers for the F-35? I've scoured the internet, LM's website and the DND's website and can't find anything close to the numbers written in the article.

Kimball Cariou

Jun 22, 2010 at 1:32pm

To Mike Born:
Here's one of many sources, from an article by Daniel Leblanc in the Globe and Mail, June 11, 2010:.
The Harper government is refusing to open up the $16-billion purchase of 65 new fighter jets to a competition because of the potential negative reaction in the United States and other allied countries, internal documents show.

The purchase of F-35 Lightning II fighter jets is one of the biggest military projects in Canadian history, almost equal in size to the entire 2006 plan to acquire more than 2,000 trucks, 21 transport planes, 16 heavy helicopters and three ships for the Canadian Forces.

The fighter contract is the subject of a heated lobbying campaign in Ottawa, as rival companies try to force the government to open up the purchase to a tendering process instead of giving it out sole-sourced to Lockheed-Martin.

The controversy is expected to grow as new federal documents show that the total value of the program comes to $16-billion once 20 years of maintenance are factored in, up from the $9-billion cost for the planes that came out earlier this week.....

Bob22222

Jul 7, 2010 at 4:14pm

You have to see the big picture, Russia now has its T-50 stealth, whats next, stealth aircraft are making other obsolete. Im not saying to get all paranoid but Canada must keep a level of defence. Their is always war, it has been in our history as a speacies since the begining of time, their has been peace after the soviet union collapsed but who knows what the future holds, ww1 and ww2 even Afganistan it took Canada years to build and upgrade its militery equipment to decent standards. Future warfare is fater pased the world is getting smaller. I say buy them and more. (Russian spys caught in the U.S, chineese hakers whats next).

conlan1313

Jul 7, 2010 at 7:29pm

hey Thrust vectoring isnt cheap ma'am ! I wanna fly an f-35 some day so dont scrap it! and harper why would you get rid of a perfectly flyable aircraft so soon? 65 F-35's and our fleet of c/f 18s would do the job just fine! might as well turn our hornets into super hornets while your at it ;)

aussie jack

Jul 10, 2010 at 11:36pm

the flyaway is still going to be around`$60m in 2010 us$, as has been recently said
there is a lot of other stuff in the $16b price