May 16, 2011 – In today’s National Post, Alex Wilner, MLI Fellow, and Marco Wyss discuss the lessons learned from the fighter jet debate. They focus on the importance of investing in “fifth-generation” aircrafts rather than the cheaper “fourth-generation” alternatives, which “will essentially be obsolete from the moment we purchase them.” They also stress that “where Canadians buy their weapons can be just as important as to what they buy.” This op-ed was also published in the Winnipeg Free Press on May 14, 2011. An excerpt below:
Fifth-generation fighters like the F-35 will have a qualitative edge over older models. Period. Our allies have gotten the message: Britain, Australia, Denmark, Italy, the Netherlands, Turkey and Norway will all be flying F-35s by 2020. Israel and Japan are likely to follow.
If Canadians want to equip their air force with the best available tools, they need to focus on next generation technology. There’s little point in looking backwards. The risk in spending a lesser fortune today on a supped-up version of the CF-18 is that Canada will find itself replacing outdated hardware before long. That’s an expensive proposition.
Second, where Canadians buy their weapons can be just as important as to what they buy. When a government decides to purchase military hardware from another country, it isn’t only thinking about improving the quality of its armed forces. It’s also thinking about the political and strategic signals it’s sending to others. The arms trade can be a political minefield. Ideally, Canada will buy its military hardware from an ally. In doing so, we’ll avoid sending an unintended message with our purchase and we’ll pre-emptively grease the wheels in the event spare parts are needed during periods of crisis. It’s important, too, that Canada signs off with a manufacturer that will survive over the long haul. That will ease with maintenance, upgrades, and future developments.
Alex Wilner and Marco Wyss are Senior Researchers at the Center for Security Studies at the ETH-Zurich, Switzerland. Wilner is also a Fellow at the Macdonald Laurier Institute in Ottawa.
There are no alternatives to the F-35