I debated posting this in Radio Chatter, but felt it deserved a look see. Knowing roughly as much about high performance aircrafts as Lew Mackenzie does, I wonder what he was thinking to get involved with this. The story about a plan to replace the F35 with the Avro Arrow is reproduced under the Fair Dealing provision of the Copyright Act.
Amy Minsky, Global News/The West Block Sunday, September 09, 2012 10:30 AM
OTTAWA -- The Harper Conservatives quietly dismissed a Canadian company's plan for an alternative to the plagued F-35 program -- a revival of a national legend that one of the country's most celebrated infantry commanders says is far superior to the planned American purchase.
The alternative aircraft can fly 20,000 feet higher than the F-35, soar twice as fast and will cost less, the project's organizers wrote in documents obtained by the Global News program The West Block.
The jet in question is the storied CF-105 Avro Arrow -- the project designed, produced and tested more than half a century ago, before the government suddenly cancelled the program and ordered all data destroyed, sparking an enduring political debate.
From the pages of history, a consortium of Canadian manufactures and aerospace executives in July 2010 presented a plan to the federal government that would see the 1950s CF-105 Avro Arrow upgraded and re-modelled with modern technology.
The result, they say, will be a jet that flies faster and more powerfully than the F-35 -- or much else on the market.
"The basic design and platform still today exceed anything that's on the books, or anything that's flying by way of a fighter -- easily more than the F-35," said retired Maj.-Gen. Lewis MacKenzie, a staunch defender of Canada and its military missions.
MacKenzie is a core advocate for this project, although he says he holds no financial stake in it. In an interview with The West Block host Tom Clark, the retired infantry soldier said he became involved as a "patriot" who had serious doubts about the F-35 program, and was happy to use his connections to get the plan in front of government and military officials.
With the proposal in hand, the Harper government would have read that enough 1950s data survived the ordered destruction, allowing engineers today to recreate the jet.
The Avro Arrow vs. the F-35
Speed: The Arrow would fly twice as fast as the F-35 -- 3,887 km/h, or Mach 3.5, compared to the F-35's 1,854 km/h, or Mach 1.67.
Distance: The Arrow can fly as far as 3,000 kilometres before refueling. The F-35 flies 2,200 kilometres before doing the same.
Costs: The 20-year lifecycle cost for 100 Arrows would come in at $12 billion. That's less than half the price Canada is expected to pay for 65 F-35s.
Conditions: The Arrow is tailor-made to Canada's unique geography, with an eject pod that would help pilots survive in arctic conditions. The F-35 has a one-size-fits-all model for missions in countries across the globe.
Source: Bourdeau Industries
"Sufficient inventory of original Arrow CF-105 engineering 'hard' data... exists to allow the reverse engineering of the (original) platform and design upgrade in a 21st century context," reads the proposal submitted by Marc Bourdeau who, as president of Bourdeau Industries, is spearheading the venture.
The "hard data," he wrote, includes parts, drawings, blueprints and original supplier companies.
There is also plenty of "soft data," such as videos, interviews and engineering lectures, to help today's engineers reconstruct and modernize the Arrow, turning it into a jet viable for modern-day requirements, the report reads.
"It's an evolution of the model," MacKenzie said during the interview. "It would (have) upgraded technology and upgraded materials to improve upon the original Avro Arrow."
The project managers argue that not only would the re-incarnated Arrows be superior jets to the F-35s the Conservatives plan to purchase, but that the "made in Canada" scenario would boost the national economy and create jobs -- a stated interest of Harper's government.
In his pitch, Bourdeau guarantees that more than 95 per cent of government funds invested in the proposed acquisition and operational costs -- $9 billion, or more than $20 billion over the jets' lifespan -- would remain in Canada. Plus, the project would create up to 25,000 direct and 175,000 indirect jobs in Canada's "revitalized" aerospace industry.
On top of that, MacKenzie said, "it's ours."
At MacKenzie's insistence, National Defence looked at the plan.
But it was firmly rejected when Julian Fantino, at the time the minister in charge of the fighter jet replacement program, wrote back to say the proposal "does not satisfactorily address these mandatory requirements."
One of those requirements, mentioned three times in the June 29 letter to MacKenzie, is stealth capabilities -- a quality the F-35 is purported to have, but that many experts have questioned.
During an NDP-led roundtable on the F-35 procurement process last month, Winslow Wheeler, a U.S. national security expert and former defence analyst in Washington, said the stealth capabilities of the F-35 are limited.
"The hoopla is stealth," he said. "But what stealth really means is that against some radars, at some angles, you are detectable at shorter ranges. And what that means, is that against some radars, at some angels, you are detectable at any range as soon as you come over the radar horizon."
Although stealth can provide a tactical advantage, Wheeler said, it's a limited one that compromises the design of the aircraft. Further, the stealth capabilities of the F-35 would be hindered once the suite of weapons are attached to the body of the aircraft, critics say.
Still, the minister wrote in June, the funds and time needed to develop the updated Arrow's airframe, avionics, sensors and mission systems are too much for Canada.
"The risks associated with undertaking this developmental effort would be too high to consider," Fantino wrote.
More than two months before that letter was sent, the Conservatives had pressed the pause button on its attempt to replace the military's aging fleet of CF-18s jets, in response to the fallout from Auditor General Michael Ferguson's explosive report on the botched process to acquire the F-35s.
After Ferguson released his report on the $25-billion purchase, the government created an office to oversee the acquisition of Canada's next fighter jets.
One of the new secretariat's tasks is to consider whether the government should consider other jets as well as the F-35s -- the aircraft critics say the military selected without considering alternatives.
But critics have questioned the potential effectiveness of the office, which is operating within Public Works and has deputy ministers from that department, National Defence and Industry Canada at the table.
At last month's roundtable, University of Ottawa defence procurement expert Philippe Lagasse questioned the secretariat's mandate.
While the government said the new office will provide decision-makers with more information, Lagasse said it isn't clear whether it will be able to address three issues he identified as key -- whether it will review the Air Force's requirements which only the F-35 meets, whether it will conduct a comprehensive cost-benefit analysis of other aircraft the Forces might consider, and whether it will examine the government's underlying policy behind the procurement.
Although the secretariat was officially underway at the time Fantino rejected the proposal, there is no mention of it in his letter to MacKenzie, who has added his name to the list of its critics.
"He could well be right," Mackenzie said of the minister's reasoning behind turning down the Bourdeau proposal. "But those who assess the risks shouldn't be from what is being presented as an impartial committee."
With government and military representatives at the table, MacKenzie said he doesn't understand how the secretariat can be considered independent.
"Independent from what?" he asked. "I would like to see the aerospace industry, manufacturing, business people... Put a committee like that together and have them look at the practicality of the idea."