OCdts. On Parade

Backing the fleet of F-35s

By 11330 Lt.-Gen. (Ret’d) Angus Watt, Ottawa Citizen April 19, 2011

Re: Canada’s F-35s: Engines not included, April 17.

I am a supporter of the government’s decision to purchase F-35s to replace our aging fleet of CF-18 fighter aircraft. The aircraft has encountered some developmental challenges and cost pressures need to be closely monitored, but it is far from the abject failure that many critics attempt to label it.

The aircraft will not be acquired without engines, as the Citizen’s article implied. It is simply a matter of contractual responsibility. Lockheed Martin makes planes, not engines. The engine for the F-35 will be supplied by Pratt & Whitney. The government will purchase the engines from Pratt & Whitney, just as will every F-35 customer, because that company will provide the guarantee and ongoing support for the engine. Thus for purposes of the contract with Lockheed Martin, the engines are “government furnished equipment.” However, the cost for the engines is built into the $9-billion overall acquisition budget. Thus “engines not included” may be technically correct from the narrow viewpoint of the contract with Lockheed Martin, but it is patently misleading from the viewpoint of the overall program.

I would also be cautious about comparing cost figures. The Canadian acquisition price of $75 million is for the aircraft only (and yes, it does include an engine). American cost figures tend to include other program elements like spare parts, weapons and infrastructure. This is obvious; 65 aircraft at $75 million each costs $4.9 billion total -much less than the acquisition budget. If you use the overall $9-billion acquisition budget, each Canadian F-35 would appear to cost $138 million because it incorporates all those other costs. This is much closer to the U.S. figures and those from the PBO, but the airplane has not suddenly become more expensive. It is simply a matter of which costs you directly attribute to the airplane. The key point is that the overall $9-billion acquisition budget is respected in both cases. Don’t be fooled by misleading comparisons that are not “apples to apples.”

Lt.-Gen. (Ret’d) Angus Watt, Ottawa Chief of the Air Staff (2007-2009)

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