The F-35: The way we were

Ahead of the release of the KPMG audit, here is the transcript of the September 15, 2010 meeting of the national defence committee, at which Peter MacKay, Rona Ambrose, Tony Clement, assistant deputy minister Dan Ross, assistant deputy minister Tom Ring and Lieutenant-General J.P.A. Deschamps appeared to discuss the F-35. Two months earlier, the Harper government had announced it was “acquiring the fifth generation Joint Strike Fighter F-35 aircraft.”

Mr. MacKay was enthusiastic in his opening statement to the committee.

Our commitment, colleagues, to procure the F-35 is part of the overall strategy to give the Canadian Forces the tools they need in order to deliver security to Canadians…

When we retire the CF-18s between the years 2017 and 2020, as we inevitably must, we will need a capable replacement. The Lightning II joint strike fighters will inherit those key responsibilities and are the ideal aircraft, in my view, to allow our men and women in uniform to accomplish their work. This is the right plane. This is the right number. This is the right aircraft for our Canadian Forces and for Canada. In fact, it’s the best plane for the best air force. We believe they deserve this equipment.

If we don’t make this purchase, there is a real danger we’ll be unable to defend our airspace, unable to exercise our sovereignty, or unable to share our responsibilities through both NORAD and NATO. I think we can all agree that such a position would be untenable for Canada–a country that spans six time zones, a country whose total area is almost ten million square kilometres, a country with more than 243,000 kilometres of coastline, the world’s largest, and a country with numerous international obligations and varied and challenging weather systems. So the government has announced its commitment to acquire the F-35.

As a fifth-generation aircraft, it is the only plane that can fill the requirement laid out in Canada First Defence Strategy. For a next-generation fighter, the F-35 Lightning II is a technological leap. It combines leading-edge attributes, including stealth and advanced sensors, to make this aircraft more reliable, more survivable and more effective than anything else available. It is the only aircraft able to meet all the operational needs of the Canadian Forces.

But that is not all. It is the most affordable option on the market. Its production line will remain open longest—providing excellent support well into the middle of the century. And it will allow us to be seamlessly interoperable with our American and NATO allies long into the future.

It has already generated—and will continue to generate—economic and industrial benefits for Canada as part of a larger global supply chain, which ministers Ambrose and Clement will speak to shortly.

Mr. Chair, let me conclude by saying that Canada needs this aircraft. This is an aircraft that will enable the Canadian Forces to meet the increasingly complex demands of the missions that we ask our pilots to perform. It’s a capability that we need for our sovereignty, for patrolling our airspace, and for ensuring that we can shoulder our share of the NATO and international load, and lead by example.

Mr. Chair, colleagues, we have the best sailors, soldiers, and air personnel in the field. They deserve the best equipment to ensure that their missions are a success and, of course, to allow them to come home to their families safe when the job is done.

We’ve previously compiled the highlights of the Harper government’s pre-April pronouncements here and here. The auditor general’s April report on the F-35 is here.

Looking for more?

Get the Best of Maclean's sent straight to your inbox. Sign up for news, commentary and analysis.