• ShipTech2020 Vanguard

OPINION: NEED A FIGHTER JET? DON’T ASK A PILOT

A few years ago, I went to a car dealership without my wife. We were looking for a family vehicle, something that would handle some cargo, a car seat and all the stuff that seems to accumulate around young children.

I was under pretty strict instructions to scope out the best combination of fuel efficiency and practicality. The only question I really needed to ask the dealer was, “What can haul the most stuff for the least amount of money?”

I already knew the answer to that. It was a Honda dealership, and I’d done my research, so the choice had already been narrowed down to a Fit, or maybe… if the price was right… a CRV.

But the second I stepped on the lot, there was this shiny silver Mercedes R-Series eyeing me up. It was like a cross between a car and a minivan, and through the interior I could see its plush black leather captain’s chairs along with plenty of knobs and buttons on the dashboard.

The sales guy caught me gawking. “This actually used to be Alfie’s [the former Sens captain] car,” he began. “This was a $70,000 vehicle when it first rolled off the lot, and now it’s going for under $20k.”

Less than five minutes later, I was taking it for a test drive… and it was amazing. Air suspension, automatic wipers, GPS in the dash, heated seats, and more bells and whistles than I’d ever seen.

I left the dealership without looking at the two vehicles I went there for, determined to convince my wife that this Mercedes was the best option for our family. It was the best sub-$20k car on the lot that day, for sure, and who could pass up wipers that sensed rain and turned on automatically?

My pitch went over like a lead balloon. “But you have to feel what it’s like to ride in a car with air suspension.” I pleaded. “You’ll see!”

“How much will it cost to fix if it breaks?” she asked.

That didn’t concern me that much. It worked now. But every fancy option in that car, at least to my wife, was just another thing that would cost a lot of money to fix down the road. She also tried to explain that, while it suited our needs, the long-term costs for fuel and maintenance just meant more headaches down the road.

“We want to be practical.” She explained, once again. “We don’t need a Mercedes, when a Honda will do. We’re going to pay less now, we’ll pay less in the future, and the Honda will do everything we need it to.”

There really wasn’t much I could say to that. We ended up getting a CRV. It was a compromise.

I picture myself as one of the people who stuck their hand up in the air excitedly when then-Defence Minister Peter MacKay was asking whether or not his government should sole-source the F-35 as Canada’s next-gen fighter.

Thank goodness it wasn’t me advising him. But I guess it didn’t matter anyway. The government committed to the jet when it was still on its journey from paper to proven fighter. Whatever people did make that original commitment were wooed with promises of bells and whistles… an aircraft that would be practically invisible or its forty-year lifespan.

I remember Lockheed Test Pilot Billie Flynn telling me at the Lockheed plant in Texas that it didn’t matter if the F-35’s were flying on patrol or not. Because the aircraft was so stealthy, other nations would just have to assume Canada’s F-35s were always in the air. “Wow.” I thought. “We’re going to assert our sovereignty in the Arctic based on the aircraft’s reputation alone…”

But things have changed since then. No one can deny that the F-35 has had a rough ride on its way to becoming a fully operational aircraft. It is now, at least with the Americans, but the fifth-generation fighter has yet to see any real action.

At this point, there is wide speculation about what Canada’s next move will be regarding the F-35. Cancelling the project will have implications that are not yet fully understood, and may rumple relations with other nations that partnered with Lockheed Martin to see the development of the aircraft through.

Because, in reality, we’re not just a buyer — we’re a partner. Canada invested in the development of the F-35 before making the commitment to buy it. Abandoning the F-35 now – in terms of optics – looks terrible; maybe not to the Canadian people, but to the U.S. and other partner nations that have invested in it. Furthermore, bailing out now could also drive the sticker price up for those partners that remain committed.

It’s not an easy decision to make, even if it seems like a no-brainer to many people at this point. Unfortunately, it’s not all about the F-35.

Promises have been made, jobs have been created, and Lockheed Martin has done an incredible job of spreading its manufacturing process all over North America. I’m assuming that the companies in Moncton, New Brunswick and Lunenburg, Nova Scotia that have received F-35 contracts won’t be smiling much if the program is cancelled.

We’re also not privy to the inner-workings of the relationships between nations; nor do we know how hard the Americans are pressuring Canada to remain in the program.

What a pickle we’re in, and all because people wanted the best, as opposed to looking objectively at what this country actually needs out of their future fighter fleet.

By the way, if you asked me today, I’d still get the Mercedes. Winter’s coming, and I need those heated leather seats.

Author: Jason McNaught

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