The new CDS on the F-35

As John Geddes notes, Lt.-Gen. Tom Lawson is an avowed fan of the F-35.

He was, for instance, asked about the plane by Conservative MP Ray Boughen during a March 2011 committee hearing.

Everything that the air force has done by way of analysis of all those aircraft available to Canada suggests that there is no comparison.

A month earlier, he’d been in Mississauga to talk up the purchase.

We’re not only defending Canada,” said Major-General Tom Lawson, assistant chief of Canada’s air staff, “we’re also doing that with a partner to the south who expects us to meet our NORAD obligations.” … Buying the fighters will give Canada the best and most inexpensive method of fulfilling its obligations to its military partners, including the United States, said Lawson, a former Commandant at the Royal Military College in Kingston.

There is also what Lt.-Gen. Lawson wrote in the Canadian Military Journal this year.

As mentioned earlier, one of the characteristics of symmetric warfare is a clearly delineated front line. In peacetime, these are the borders between sovereign nations. A nation’s claim to sovereignty over a region implies that nation’s ability to exercise and enforce its national will, providing security and rule of law for its people within the region. NORAD’s mission of aerospace control is how Canada and the U.S. largely perform this task within North American airspace. This is accomplished by tracking, identifying, and, if necessary, intercepting and potentially destroying aircraft that enter the airspace with malicious intent. It is this final option that brings us to the choice of the subject of Canada’s next fighter.

Fighter aircraft must possess a wide variety of capabilities, including extensive range, endurance, speed, survivability, the ability to perform air-to-air refueling, advanced reconnaissance capabilities, and interoperability with other military assets. While our current fighter aircraft, the CF-18 Hornet, is capable of performing its tasks at this time, it is reaching the end of its effective operational lifespan. It needs to be replaced. Analysis of these capability requirements for a new fighter has “… made it clear that only a 5th generation fighter could satisfy our needs in the increasingly complex future security environment.  We need a capability that helps us carry out our core missions of defending the sovereignty of Canadian and North American airspace through NORAD, providing Canada with an effective and modern capability for international operations, and effectively conducting joint operations with our Allies though NATO or a coalition.”

Currently, both Russia and China are in the process of developing 5th generation fighters of their own. If they have the capabilities provided by these advanced aircraft, and NORAD cannot match them, the current symmetry would end. As a simple example, a 5th generation fighter, due to its stealth properties and its more advanced sensor suite, will ‘see’ a 4th generation fighter well before it is spotted in return.  Also, it must be noted that it is impossible to upgrade a 4th generation fighter into a 5th generation fighter.  Stealth must be expressly designed and built into a fighter from the outset.

“Fifth generation” is a description often applied to the F-35. In his report on the procurement, the auditor general wrote that “fifth generation capability” is used to describe “fighter jets that, according to manufacturers, incorporate the most modern technologies, such as stealth, advanced radar, and integrated avionics,” but that “there is no accepted or objective definition of fifth generation capability.” “It is important to note,” the auditor general also wrote, “that the term ‘fifth generation’ is not a description of an operational requirement.”

In committee testimony two years ago, a representative from Boening argued that F-18 Super Hornet qualified as “fifth generation.”

Defence Minister Peter MacKay, in response to an order paper question from the NDP’s Matthew Kellway in June, acknowledged the subjectivity of the phrase.

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