The measure of the F-35

Alan Williams, the former assistant deputy minister with National Defence, points with concern to the department’s use of a 20-year timeline for the F-35.

“That’s a known distortion,” Williams said. “If you have as your intent to be as open as possible, you don’t do that.”

There is no question that government and military intends the F-35 or whichever other aircraft replaces Canada’s aging fleet of CF-18s to remain the country’s main aerial fighter until the middle of the century. “It has to go for at least 30 years, which is our typical expectation,” Royal Canadian Air Force commander Lt.-Gen. Andre Deschamps told a parliamentary committee on Sept. 15, 2010.

Williams says it’s not unusual to exclude expenses like personnel and fuel from projections, but Andrew Coyne contrasts Peter MacKay’s explanation with the Treasury Board guidelines.

… it is directly contrary to longstanding Treasury Board directives, which stress throughout that the costs of any acquisition must include “all relevant costs over the useful life of the acquisition, not solely the initial or basic contractual cost” (Contracting Policy, 2006). Among the costs deemed “relevant” are those related to “planning, acquisition, operating and disposal,” including forecast “modifications, conversions, repairs, and replacement.”

Specifically, an “acquisition decision that is based on the lowest purchase price but that ignores potential operations and maintenance (O&M) costs may result in higher overall costs,” it notes in Guide to Management of Materiel. Among the suggested considerations, in assessing operations costs: “Are all training costs included? Are the costs of fuel and lubricants included? Are all repair costs included?”

The Globe tests Mr. MacKay’s explanations against what the experts say. An American analyst tells the Canadian Press it’s time to ask questions about the F-35’s capabilities.

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