Wednesday, November 8, 2017

A COMMENT ABOUT THE COMMENT SECTION...



Apparently...  The comment section has gone to potty.

I want people to know that I am aware and not entirely happy about it. This is not the first time this has happened...  And I doubt it will be the last.  I do apologize for this.

In the past, I have preferred to take more of a “hands off” approach to the comment section. I have more than my fair say in each blog post, so adding more would seem redundant. I also (as much as I would like to) cannot read every post, since they often number into the hundreds, if not thousands.

To put it simply, I would much rather spend time researching and creating content.  I encourage you all to "police yourselves".  I also invite you to join the Facebook group, where I have additional moderator help and people are less likely to use "burner" accounts.  It is a closed group, but that is only to help cut back on the spam and scammers.

Just remember that Disqus does give individuals the power to report and/or block other users.  I would also remind you about the futility of arguing with people on the internet.



Just to clarify a few things regarding my recent "softening" on the F-35 Lightning II...


  1. I still think it is a terrible choice to replace the CF-18 as Canada's sole fighter type.  I also believe it would be a mistake to dismiss it out of hand.  
  2. As always, my intention with this blog was not to bash the JSF specifically, but to ensure Canada procure the right fighter for its needs (not somebody else's).  This can only be done through a open and fair evaluation of ALL the options.  
  3. Lockheed Martin has not bribed me in any way, shape, or form.  (The negative symbol in front of my current back balance can attest to that!)
  4. I have not undergone any recent head trauma, nor is my mental health in jeopardy.  (No more than usual, anyway...)
  5. I still like the Gripen.  Like...  A lot.  
Anyhoo...  

I hope to continue this blog until (if?) Canada finally selects a new fighter.  There will be periods where the posts are sporadic, as my personal life and "real job" have to take priority.  I should have a few more posts coming soon...  As quickly as I can sit down at a keyboard long enough.

Until then, thank you all for your input, your readership, and your patients.

-Doug


Sunday, November 5, 2017

HOW TO MAKE A MIXED FLEET WORK.

We've done it before...
One way or another, Canada will soon have a mixed fighter fleet.

The RCAF will be fielding at least two, possibly three different fighter designs.  The CF-18, its replacement, and whatever is chosen to be Canada's "interim fighter" (which may end up being one of the former).  One way or another, a mixed fleet will be unavailable as Canada takes delivery of newer fighters while still flying old ones.

Needless to say, the usage of multiple fighter types will put additional strain on the RCAF as it is forced to juggle with different training requirements, basing requirements, and logistic concerns.  Simply put, multiple fighter types means more cost.

It is for this reason that Canada retired its fleet of CF-116 (CF-5) Freedom Fighters.  Despite being much cheaper to operate than its CF-18 stablemate, this was not enough to justify the extra hassle of maintaining a less capable fighter.  It was deemed wiser to phase out the CF-116 and use those resources towards the CF-18.

CF-18 and CF-116
It should be noted that the concept of a single fighter type fleet is a relatively new one.

While the term "multi-role fighter" is ubiquitous today, such a thing was unheard of 40 years ago.  Due to the limits of technology at the time, aircraft needed to be specialized for one role or another.  A fighter was designated an "interceptor", "fighter-bomber", or "day fighter".

Canada's own F/A-18 was arguably the first true "multi-role" fighter, capable of both air-superiority duties and ground attack without much compromise.  One could argue that the F-4 Phantom II preceded it, but the F-4's balance between interceptor and ground attack differed depending on the variant.

Before the introduction of the CF-18, the RCAF utilized a veritable smorgasbord of fighter aircraft.

  • The CF-116 Freedom Fighter.  This was used as a low cost day fighter, "aggressor" trainer, light attack, and reconnaissance.  
  • The CF-101 Voodoo.  Used as an all-weather interceptor in a role originally intended for the CF-105 Arrow.
  • The CF-104 Starfighter.  Used an attack aircraft, despite being originally intended for use as an interceptor (which possibly explains its horrific safety record).
The fact that the CF-18 could perform the roles of all three three aircraft was no doubt a boon for the RCAF.  Pilots and maintainers needed only be trained on a single aircraft.  Supply chains and logistics were greatly simplified.

Multi-role fighters do have limitations, however.  


RAAF FB-111 and F/A-18 Hornet

As good as the Hornet is at multiple roles, it is still surpassed by aircraft dedicated towards a single purpose.  The USN still preferred the A-6 Intruder for assault missions and the F-14 Tomcat for air superiority.  The RAAF bolstered its air power by utilizing the FB-111 Aardvark. 

Even the very term "multi-role" can be interpreted loosely, as some multi-role fighters are designed with a bias towards one role or another.  The Eurofighter Typhoon, for example, skews more towards the air-superiority role.  This is because Eurofighter partner nations utilize the Panavia Tornado for attack missions.  Conversely, the F-35 Lightning II places more emphasis on ground attack, as the USAF utilizes the vaunted F-22 in the air-superiority role.  

Despite the fact that it was a true multi-role fighter, the Hornet's spin-off, the Super Hornet, is less worthy of the title.  While it boasts many improvements over the legacy Hornet, most of these improvements (payload, size, etc) only improve its ground attack capability.  As an air superiority fighter, the Super Hornet actually falls behind its progenitor in several areas.  With a less favorable power-to-weight ratio, the Super Hornet is slower and less maneuverable.  (The Super Hornet makes up for this thanks to its better radar and more fuel, but its still less of a dogfighter)

There is also the question of cost.  

To put it simply, the more you want a fighter to do (and do it well), the costlier it is going to be.  Not only to procure, but to operate as well.  Heavy payloads require big aircraft with big engines that burn more fuel.  Precision targeting equipment and smart munitions are notoriously expensive compared to their "dumb bomb" counterparts.  Stealth coatings require extra maintenance and climate controlled hangars


Out with the old...  In with the new.  RAAF F-111 and F/A-18Fs
Australia does make an excellent case study.  

Like Canada, Australia is a Commonwealth nation with deep ties to the USA, lots of coastline, and close proximity to a potential adversary (Russia for Canada, China for Australia).  While not officially a member of NATO, Australia is considered a "major non-NATO ally" and has participated in many of same military coalitions as Canada.  Both nations are roughly the same size.

Australia does spend more on defense than Canada, however.  Despite its smaller population, Australia's military budget is roughly 50% more than Canada's.  This is thanks to Australia spending the NATO-recommended 2% of GDP on defence versus Canada's 1%.  (Odd that a non-NATO country follows the recommendation while the NATO one does not.)

Thankfully, the current Liberal government plan is to increase defense spending to more closely match that of Australia's.  With similar military spending levels, there is no reason why Canada could not afford to adopt to the same multi-fighter fleet as Australia.  

Several years ago, much like Canada, Australia was in need of fighter jets.  Its fleet of F/A-18 Hornets were rapidly approaching the end of their usefulness.  It was also desperately attempting to fill a "capability gap" left behind when it retired its FB-111 fleet due to costs.  Australia was already a member of the JSF program so it selected the F-35 as a default choice to replace the F/A-18.  Unfortunately, the F-35s would not arrive soon enough to fill the gap left by the FB-111.  Australia promptly addressed this by ordering 24 Boeing Super Hornets.  Half of these are the EA-18G Growler electronic warfare variant, with the other 12 being prewired for easy conversion.

By accident or by design, the RAAF will soon be flying a fighter force resembling that of the USN.  Like the USN, the RAAF will be in possession of a advanced stealth fighter, an EW platform, and a solid "workhorse" type.  If there proves to be too much redundancy, Australia has the option of converting its "workhorse" Super Hornets into Growlers.

The USN and the RAAF's future fighters.
Until recently, Canada's procurement path seemed to be emulating Australia's; albeit at a slower pace.  Like Australia, Canada had selected the Super Hornet as an "interim fighter" with additional fighters to be selected later.  That came to a crashing halt when the Canadian government retaliated against Boeing's attempt to stifle Canadian aerospace.

Now, Canada is back to square one.  The ruling Liberal Party of Canada has backed themselves into a political corner by first promising not to buy the F-35, then the Super Hornet.  Of course, backtracking in politics is certainly not unheard of so neither option is truly off the table yet.  With less than two years before the next federal election, there is considerable pressure to come up with an answer to Canada's fighter problem.

As I mentioned in my last post, the F-35 Lightning II is still very much a contender.  After maturing somewhat, it is better than it once was, but still far from perfect.  It is still too unreliable, too expensive, and too beholden to the USA to be Canada's mainline fighter.  There is still a great deal of pressure to purchase the JSF however.

At its current rate of production, the F-35 would be readily available for purchase if Canada wished to do so.  This comes with a caveat, however...  The F-35s themselves may not be ready for primetime.

Other fighter choices, like the Typhoon or Gripen, come with their own caveat:  Due to the much slower production rates compared to the JSF, it would take many years to acquire the full complement of 88 fighters.

The solution to this quandary may be for Canada to hedge its bets by purchasing two different fighter types.  One as a "workhorse" type and the other as a "special purpose" type.  Unfort, this would entail additional cost when compared to utilizing a single fighter type, but there are ways to mitigate this somewhat.



First of all, both fighter types would have to utilize the same weapons.  This is a rather easy stipulation as the F-35, Typhoon, Gripen, and Super Hornet all use the typical Sidewinders, AMRAAMs, Paveways, and other ordinance commonly found in NATO.  Only the Rafale sticks out due to its preference for French-sourced MICA missiles and the like.

Second, cost differences must be enough to make a mixed fleet feasible.  It is for this reason that the Typhoon and Rafale lose out somewhat.  While both have lower operating costs than the F-35, neither is remarkably so.  Flying a mix of F-35s and Typhoons would almost certainly cost more than flying a fleet consisting solely of F-35s.  However, the Super Hornet, which has nearly half the cost per flight hour (CPFH) certainly makes an argument.  The Gripen, on the other hand, at less than one-quarter the CPFH, would seem to make a much larger argument that a mixed fleet would be economical feasible.

The third consideration is capability.  When the RCAF retired the CF-116 Freedom Fighter, there was little protest.  Simply put, there was nothing the Freedom Fighter could do that the CF-18 could not.  The CF-116 also lacked modern features like beyond-visual-range (BVR) capability.  Despite all the differences between the fighters being considered now, none of them are lacking capability.  It could be easily argued that real-world use would only reveal minor differences between them.

It is in these minor differences that Canada has potential to do something truly great.

The rough-and-tumble Gripen.
By choosing two fighters that are on opposite ends of the spectrum, Canada could greatly improve its capability at an affordable cost.

The first candidate would obviously be the Gripen.  It is by far the cheapest to operate and makes an excellent fit for Canada's climate and defence budget alike.  Despite its affordability, the Gripen is no slouch.  The upcoming E version will utilize an AESA radar, IRST, and advanced countermeasures system.  It is available in one or two-seat versions and its low operating costs make it an excellent high-end trainer and aggressor craft.  The Gripen would have no issue utilizing the RCAF's current infrastructure; including the Forward Operating Locations and aerial refueling assets.

The JAS 39E/F makes an excellent candidate for the RCAF's workhorse fighter.  As such, it should make up the brunt of the fleet, replacing the CF-18 on a nearly one-to-one basis.  This would make 70 fighters delivered gradually over the next 10 years.  The Gripen does lack in payload and does not have stealth capabilities, which makes its choice of stablemate a clear one.

The futuristic but flawed F-35
To address the "capability gap" that nobody even acknowledged existed until recently, the F-35 makes a good candidate.

Like it or not, the F-35 is the only fighter with stealth capabilities.  This alone makes for an argument that Canada should purchase at least a few of them.  There is also the simple fact that since we have already paid into the program (and continue to do so) we would be wasting money if we passed the JSF over.

Does Canada really need 88 stealth fighters however?  It seems like it would be a bit of a stretch to declare we would need more than a handful of high-cost stealth fighters at most.

By purchasing a 18 fighters within a three year period, Canada would address its capability gap in short order.  Those 18 F-35s would not be an "interim" fighter but more of a "special purpose" fighter.  As such, its use would be reserved for duties less suited to the Gripen, like high-risk coalition actions and the like.  A single squadron operating out of a single base would lessen the need to modify other airbases to accommodate the JSF's special needs.

I have argued before that the Gripen and the Super Hornet would make a good pairing due to their common engines, low costs, and differing capabilities.  A similar argument can be made for a Gripen/JSF pairing, except the low costs would be replaced by an even wider range of capabilities.  What the Gripen lacks in payload and stealth, the F-35 delivers.  What the F-35 lacks in ruggedness and affordability, the Gripen delivers.  By going with a mixed fleet, the RCAF would enjoy the best of both worlds.

Best of all, by choosing a small number of F-35s, Canada not only lowers costs, but avoids the risk of putting all of our eggs in the JSF basket.  If another grounding were to happen for one reason or another, the loss of 18 out of 88 fighters would merely be an inconvenience.

Purchasing a small amount of F-35s followed by a larger amount of fighters purchased elsewhere would also send a political message as well.  It would show that we still have faith in our American neighbors, but that faith is waining.

Of course, a clearer message would be sent if we avoided US-sourced military hardware entirely, but that is a discussion for another day...




Wednesday, November 1, 2017

SHOULD CANADA RECONSIDER THE F-35?

Still a contender?
When I started this blog's progenitor, http://gripen4canada.blogspot.ca, my thesis was that the F-35 was not the right fighter to replace Canada's aging CF-18 fleet.  At the time, the JSF project was years behind schedule, billions of dollars over budget, and still nowhere near to fielding a competent multi-role fighter.

It turns out a lot of people agreed with me.

Since that time, Canada has changed governing parties.  The current ruling party went so far as to promise to cancel Canada's F-35 purchase and to hold a fair and open competition.  Since coming into power, they also made it known that Canada suffers from a "capability gap" that required immediate attention.

We all know how that turned out so far...

As the years have gone by, the Joint Strike Fighter program has continued to plod on.  The F-35 has undoubtedly made progress, and both the USAF and the USMC have declared the fighter fit enough to meet Initial Operating Capability (IOC).

With Boeing's Super Hornet now being declared persona non grata amongst the Canadian government, the door is now open for the Trudeau government to reconsider the F-35.  After all, despite its faults, at least Lockheed Martin did not actively attempt to squash Canada's indigenous aerospace industry.

Is it time to give the F-35 a second chance?


Despite all the initial bluster, the Trudeau government has not yet closed the door on the F-35.  It will be among those fighters considered in a "fair and open competition".  Not only that, but Canada has continued (albeit quietly) to pay its membership dues in order to remain a partner in the JSF Industrial Program.

Lockheed Martin (no doubt smelling blood in the water) has even been so nice as to offer the F-35 Lightning II as an interim fighter in lieu of Boeing's Super Hornet.

Ignoring the ludicrousness of adopting the JSF as a short term "interim" fighter, the offer does make a certain amount of sense.  The mechanisms are already in place for Canada to purchase the F-35

The mechanisms are already in place for Canada to purchase the F-35.  As a longstanding JSF partner, we would not need to additional permission from the US Government.  Lockheed Martin is ramping up JSF production to seventeen aircraft per month by 2020, so it would not take long for those Canadian F-35s to be built.  Oddly enough, the F-35 may be fastest way for Canada to address its "capability gap".

F-35s recently flew within spitting distance of North Korea.
Despite its troubled history, the F-35 is finally starting to enter service.  The USMC declared the F-35B's IOC more than two years ago.  The F-35A's (the version Canada would procure) IOC back in  2016.  Officially, the JSF is no longer a prototype.  It is in service.

Despite assumptions to the contrary, the F-35 has not been relegated to the role of hanger queen.

While an engine fire preempted the JSF's transatlantic debut at the 2014 Farnborough Air Show, the aircraft was able to perform as planned two years later.  Since then, the F-35 has performed at multiple air shows and events without nary a hitch.

The F-35 has proven itself beyond air shows, however.  It is being deployed around the world.  During Red Flag, the F-35 posted a simulated kill ratio of 15:1.  (It should be noted that these events are scripted in favor of "blue air" and the outcome is never really in doubt)

As the F-35 slowly enters service, it continues along its development path.  Examples fitted with the "Full Combat Capability" Block 3F are now being delivered.  While the 3F software still lacks some capabilities, it is enough to declare the jet battle-ready.

One could argue that Canada's initial misgivings regarding the JSF were premature...  But there are still some issues.

F-35C performing carrier trials.

As has always been the case with the JSF, its most outstanding issue is its cost.  Its acquisition cost still remains quite high at $95 million per unit.  This, despite aggressive cost-cutting actions and pressure from the White House.  

Despite Trump's self-congratulatory tone regarding F-35 price drops, the GAO (Government Accountability Office) has taken a less optimistic view of the JSF's progress.  Put simply, the JSF fleet is currently "unsustainable".  

A lack of repair depots have resulted in a severe shortage of spare parts for the aircraft.  Broken parts take up to six months to replace.  Because of this, an F-35 has a 22% chance of being unavailable.  This is more than twice the expected 10%.  Until these depots are up and running (around 2022), this problem will get continue to get worse as the number of aircraft in service overwhelms the capability to repair them.  

There was, of course, a minor problem with the F-35 starving its pilots of oxygen.  We can only hope a recent "algorithm tweak" fixed that particular issue.  

Many have argued that most of these issues are simply "teething problems" associated with a new aircraft type.  Given time, they say, the F-35 will be just as dependable as the F-16 or F/A-18 are now.  This may be the case, but the JSF will need many more years getting there.  


So should Canada reconsider the F-35?

Of course it should.  

Like any of the other fighters being considered, it should be considered and ranked based on its merits.  All the fighters have their strengths and weaknesses, the F-35 gets most of the attention because of its newness and large scope.  Due diligence needs to be exercised to ensure what is the right fighter for Canada.  In order to be selected, a fighter would have to prove itself capable, reliable, and affordable.  It would also need to offer additional economic benefits to Canada as well (a category in which Boeing recently earned a solid "ZERO").

As it stands, Canada may have made a wise decision to not go forward as planned with the JSF.  Early plans on being an early adopter would have resulted in fighters that were still in need of retrofitting.  Possibly, we may have been stuck with some some that will never be combat capable.  

Perhaps Canada would be better off avoiding an "all in" approach the the F-35.  Most JSF buyers are operating the F-35 as part of a mixed fighter fleet.  Perhaps Canada should reexamine this option.  A small amount of F-35 acquired under the auspices of an "interim fighter" may allow Canada to "try before we buy"...  In theory, anyway.  

Unfortunately, there would be little time to field test the F-35 in the RCAF before a final decision would have to be made.  Selecting the F-35 as a full-on CF-18 replacement would remain a risky prospect.  

There is an opportunity here for the Government of Canada to compromise on a JSF purchase and purchase a few (18) instead of many (88).  This would give the RCAF the F-35s vaunted abilities to operate in high risk environments.  The other 70 fighters could be seen as a "workhorse" for use in training, sovereignty missions, and operating in lower risk environments.  

If Canada ends up flying a mixed fleet due to the need for an "interim fighter" the F-35 may indeed be smart choice.  

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

BOEING'S BULLYING BACKFIRES BIGLY.

Brothers from different mothers?

For those of you whom have been living under a rock the last 24 hours, Bombardier has now partnered with Airbus in order to save the C-Series.

No actual money has exchanged hands, but Airbus now owns 50.01% of the C-Series program.  This gives Airbus controlling interest in the jetliner moving forward.  While this may seem like a blow to Bombardier to see its pride and joy become the property of someone else, this partnership all but assures the future of the C-Series and Bombardier as a whole.

Under this new partnership, C-Series headquarters will remain in Montreal and production will continue in Bombardier's Mirabel assembly plant.  Airbus will expand C-Series production by utilizing its pre-existing plant in Mobile, Alabama.  This will allow the C-Series to circumvent the U.S. Department of Commerce's crippling 300% import tariffs.  Airbus will also contribute its considerable marketing and supply chain prowess.

In effect, Bombardier has a sacrificed part of the pie...  But the pie will now likely be far bigger.

The deal is described as "win-win-win".  Bombardier and its C-Series have a much more secure future, Airbus gets a new airliner that slots just under its A320 series, and Delta gets its airplanes without that pesky (possibly illegal) tariff.  Bombardier shareholders are happy as the values of their shares go up.  Meanwhile, workers at Bombardier's Mirabel plant should have gainful employment until 2041.  Taxpayers in Canada and especially Quebec can rest easy that government investment into the C-Series will not turn into a write off.

There is, of course, one big loser in all this.



If Boeing was having scary dreams about the C-Series before, it is now in the middle of a nightmare that it cannot wake up from.

Boeing has no one else to blame.  It created its own monster here.  

By tying itself to the "Trump train" and attempting to stifle competition utilizing American protectionism, Boeing has driven Bombardier into the arms of Boeing's chief rival.  Like the mythical hydra, two heads have grown where there was once one.  



Boeing will now be forced to market its venerable 737 against both the C-Series and the A320 NEO...  Except now, BOTH models will be backed by the European-based aerospace giant.  Boeing could very well be in for a hard time marketing the 50-year-old 737's design against two much newer designs that both utilize fly-by-wire and geared turbofans.  

At least Boeing has its military branch to fall back on, right?

Errrr...  About that...

When it challenged the Bombardier, Boeing quickly lost friends all over the world.  The Canadian government all but scuttled its plans to purchase interim 18 Super Hornets from Boeing's defence branch.  Not only has Boeing lost this easy, no-bid sale; but it all but put itself out of the running to sell up to 70 more CF-18 replacements.


But we won’t do business with a company that’s busy trying to sue us and put our aerospace workers out of business.

-Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau  

Boeing's 737-based (and US Government funded) P-8A Poseidon 
The United Kingdom has also promised to fight back against Boeing.  The UK set up a £113 million loan to help set up a factory in Belfast to build the C-Series wing assemblies.  These jobs were put at risk thanks to Boeing's legal action.  Now, Boeing may have put future defence contracts at risk.  

Luckily for Boeing, it just recently inked a deal to sell P-8A Poseidons to the RAF.  Ironically, these are based on the 737.  While this sale may be safe, it is doubtful Britain will knock on Boeing's door for anything else in the near future.  


The largest casualty in all this may ultimately be Boeing's reputation.  

A fitting pair?
By speaking out so loud against Bombardier, Boeing reminded the world that it too was the recipient of government largesse.  Its protests against Bombardier came across as pure hypocrisy.  Moreover, Boeing's actions confirm the world's worst fears regarding Trump-era America:  That the USA believes it can play by its own set of rules, other nations be damned.  

This may come to a shock to Boeing, Trump, and the rest of America; but the rest of the world can get along just fine without them.  

In the end, Boeing's aggression towards Bombardier may have only benefitted its competition at Boeing's own expense.  Bombardier will likely build more C-Series than it ever would without Airbus's help.  Airbus will steal more sales away from Boeing's bread-and-butter 737.  Boeing's military division will watch helplessly as Canada looks elsewhere for much-needed fighter jets and maritime patrol aircraft.  Other nations may soon follow suit

Instead of relying on its engineers to build a better aircraft, Boeing decided to let its small army of lawyers and lobbyists to stifle competition.  That mistake will end up costing Boeing BILLIONS.  

But hey, at least they still got Air Force One...


Sunday, October 15, 2017

FIXING THE CAPABILITY GAP.

RAAF F/A-18 Hornet
Canada has officially begun the process to acquire used F/A-18 Hornets from the RAAF.  It has presented the Australian government with a "Letter of Interest".  This tire-kicking will give a sense as to how much these second-hand fighters would cost us and how soon they would arrive.

Let me save the Trudeau government some trouble:  Don't bother.

This is not to disparage the Australians or the RAAF.  Like Canada, the Aussies have continuously upgraded and refurbished their fleet of Hornets.  While there are minor differences between the two, integration into the RCAF fleet should be relatively "plug-and-play".

As far as costs go, second-hand F/A-18s would likely seem like a bargain.  It would certainly be a lot more affordable than the mind-boggling $5.23 billion quoted for 18 Boeing Super Hornets.

So why give the RAAF Hornets a pass?

It is a simple matter of availability.  The whole point of the interim fighter is to increase our fighter capability NOW.  This would give us the time to hold a proper fighter competition and take deliveries.  This is the tripping point.

RAAF F-35 (based out of Arizona, USA)
Australia is currently replacing its F/A-18s with F-35 Lightning IIs.  Like Canada, Australia is a JSF Industrial Partner.  Unlike Canada, Australia has ultimately decided on the F-35.  So far, only two F-35s have been built for Australia...  And those are currently parked in Arizona.  These two aircraft will be joined by the next eight RAAF F-35s within the next year.   It will not be until December 2018 that a pair of F-35s will arrive in Australia for "operational test and evaluation".

At this rate, the RAAF will not have any usable F-35 assets until 2019-2020 at the very earliest.  Given the program's history of delays and setbacks, it would not be surprising to see this pushed even further into the future.

If Australia is willing to sell a sizable portion of its current fighter fleet to Canada quickly and at a fair price, then it is well worth looking into.  However, it would seem unlikely that any high-ranking officials in the RAAF would sign off on selling any fighters whilst waiting for replacements.  That would leave Australia with its own "capability gap".  While Australia would likely be more than happy to help Canada with its defence, it will not likely do so at the cost of its own.

While it is not a bad idea to look at the RAAF Hornets as an option, it is hard to imagine it as our best option.  Even if Canada were able to acquire these used fighters for a reasonable price and in a timely manner, they would still be a short-term solution to a long-term problem.

Wait...  WHAT?
Oddly enough, Canada may be better off purchasing the F-35 as an interim fighter.

No...  Wait...  Stay with me...  Let me finish...

Lockheed Martin, the USAF, USMC, and countless other parties would like nothing more than to increase F-35 production.  Thanks to Trump, that looks like it will finally happen.  This means that if Canada actually did want the JSF, we could likely get them just as fast as anyone else.  Heck, we could probably take deliveries sooner than we could used Hornets.

This would be a bitter pill for the Liberal Party of Canada, however, as they promised to do no such thing.  This could be mitigated somewhat, however.

Instead of framing the F-35 as a CF-18 replacement or as an interim fighter, the Federal Government could instead label it as a permanent stand-alone purchase.  This small number of F-35s (a single squadron) would serve alongside Canada's main fighter fleet.  These would not be the "workhorses" of the RCAF but serve as a "high-end" fighter much like the American F-22.  This single squadron would be tasked with "coalition duty" operating with F-35s with other nations and utilizing the same infrastructure abroad.  These fighters would not be tasked with more mundane (but no less important) duties such as air policing or training.  This hypothetical squadron would operate out of a single base (Cold Lake or Bagotville). This would mean less need to modify existing RCAF infrastructure at our Forward Operating Locations and other bases.

Best of all, securing a small number of F-35s would likely be enough to secure Canada's place in the JSF industrial program, thus keeping its various Canadian subcontractors happy.

There may even be a way for Canada to procure the F-35 quickly and cheaply...  If we are willing to lower our expectations somewhat.

Thanks to the JSF business model, there are now almost 200 F-35s in the American inventory that are likely to become "Concurrency orphans".  These early production aircraft have been left behind as newer F-35s come off the line with a higher "Block" status.  The Pentagon has little desire to upgrade these aircraft, however, as they feel that money would be better spent on new F-35s instead of retrofitting the old ones.

Perhaps Canada could acquire these "demo" model F-35s at a substantial markdown?  The choice could then be made to either pay for the upgrades ourselves or simply leave them at their current "Block 2B" status.  While Block 2B is not considered the "Full Warfighting" version, it is considered combat capable and was deemed worthy enough to enter IOC with the USMC.  Still, given the JSF's bumpy beginnings, it may be wiser to simply stick with new build models.

Like the Aussie Super Hornet, this is not an ideal solution, but it is an option.  Going with new or slightly-used F-35s at least has the benefit of providing longer-term capabilities.

Eurofighter Typhoon
As far as the "eurocanards" go, it would be hard to justify a short-term purchase to fulfill the "interim" role.  Buying a small number of used or new aircraft for short-term use would pretty much be a non-starter given the added difficulty and expense of operating a mixed fleet.

The only way a Eurocanard would make sense as an "interim" solution is if it was part of a larger deal to replace Canada's entire fighter fleet.  Older, "surplus" fighters could be delivered to the RCAF almost immediately while orders are placed for more advanced variants of the same fighter.

For example, Saab may be able to provide a number of Gripen C/Ds on a short term basis to assist in transition and training while waiting for the Gripen E/Fs to come off the assembly line.  Saab has a history of offering leases to countries with modest military budgets, so it is not too hard to imagine.

Eurofighter would likely be able to offer a similar deal with the Typhoon.  Some Typhoon operators have decided to trim their fleets, and this has resulted in a few surplus Typhoons available.  Like Saab, Eurofighter could entice a new buyer by offering Canada a few older fighters to tide us over until new-build fighters arrive.

This strategy would require Canada's Federal Government to add this stipulation to its CF-18 replacement competition.  This would allow any of the manufacturers to bid on providing both a long-term and short-term fighter.  This added complexity would undoubtedly slow down the process even more.

 There is another possibility.

Beechcraft AT-6 Wolverine
Instead of focusing on a supersonic multirole fighter, perhaps Canada would be better off addressing its "capability gap" with something a little simpler?

Given the recent history of asymmetric warfare utilized in the war against terror, it would make sense to look into a simpler, cheaper aircraft to fly those missions in which a $100 million jet fighter would be overkill.  Aircraft like the AT-6 Wolverine and EMB 314 Super Tucano are prime examples of this type.  Sporting advanced optical sensors and guided bombs, these small, inexpensive aircraft are just as capable of taking out a "technical" as a jet fighter costing ten times as much.

While this type of aircraft would not be able to replace the CF-18, it would certainly take the pressure off for future missions.  Best of all, Canada already flies the T-6 in the form of the Harvard II trainer.  All RCAF pilots coming out of flight school are already trained on it.  It may even end up being a Snowbird replacement.

Like the F-35, this solution should not be looked at as an "interim" solution but as a long-term addition to RCAF capability.  Unlike the F-35, it would be much easier to fit in the budget.

With a supposed "capability" gap complicated by the grim realities of budgets and politics, there is no longer time to stall.  Now is the time for Canada to get creative in looking for a solution.







Sunday, October 8, 2017

WHY BOEING FEARS THE C-SERIES.

It sure doesn't look scary...
[Note:  Sorry to dwell on the Boeing/Bombardier dispute instead of jet fighters...  But what is happening with the C-Series will have lasting repercussions to Canada's aerospace industry.  The Federal government's response to cancel its plans for an interim Super Hornet not only shakes up Canada's upcoming fighter competition, it puts the entire thing in a blender.  This point in history will be remembered as a pivotal moment for Canadians, right up there with the cancellation of the Avro Arrow.]


Bombardier got hit with another tariff this past week.  The US Commerce Department imposed an 80% anti-dumping tariff on the CS100.  This is in addition to the 220% "countervailing" tariffs imposed the week before by the same office.  These tariffs come at the behest of Boeing; which accuses Bombardier of both receiving unfair government subsidies and selling the CS100 at below market prices in order to gain market share.

Boeing does have a fair argument.  Bombardier has been the recipient of tax breaks and government loans.  The aerospace firm has been derided (rightly so) for crying poverty amply rewarding its upper executive.  Canada does seem to have a love/hate relationship with Bombardier.

Of course, Boeing does the exact same thing.  

Boeing has received massive tax breaks on the state and federal level.  Boeing "dumps" its airliners at a loss in order to break into new markets.  After selling a fleet of 787s to Air Canada recently, Air Canada was able to immediately sell some of these airliners for a profit.

Almost immediately after "dumping" airliners into the Canadian market, Boeing is now crying foul because Bombardier is doing the same.

We will not even touch on Boeing's defence division, which receives an enormous amount of Government largesse.  Even Donald Trump criticized the $4 billion cost of Boeing's new Air Force One.

Hypocrisy, thy name is Boeing.

The Boeing 787.  Each one sold to Air Canada at a loss.  
Many are now accusing Boeing using the Trump administration's protectionists leanings to bully its competitors out of the lucrative US market.   There is merit to this, as Boeing has long been doing similar battle with European-based Airbus.  One could be excused for wondering if Boeing as just as many lawyers as it does aerospace engineers...

So why is Boing making such a fuss?

Boeing does not currently manufacture a direct competitor to the CS100 nor does it have a similar aircraft in development.  Its closest competitor to the CS100 would be the 737-700, a significantly larger plane (149 seats vs. 133) that lacks both the composite construction and the geared turbofan of the C-Series.

One could commend Bombardier for fulfilling a niche that both Boeing and Airbus seem to have little interest in.  The CS100 fills the gap.  It is larger than regional jets like Bombardier's own CRJ Series and Embraerer's E-Jet; yet it is smaller than full-sized airliners like the 737 or A319.  The CS100 presents itself as the "Goldilocks" for routes with too much demand for an E-Jet but a 737 would likely have empty seats.  The C-Series' use of lightweight composites and geared turbofans help push its operating costs down, making it even more attractive to an industry where efficiency is king.

While the C-Series' groundbreaking design helps efficiency, it also introduces risk.  Planes that cannot fly cannot earn revenue.  No carrier wants to have to ground their planes due to an unforeseen issue with new technology.  This makes it difficult for even the best designs to find buyers at the start of a production run.

It is for this reason Bombardier and Canada's aerospace sector had reason to celebrate when Delta Airlines ordered 75 CS100s.  This was seen as a huge vote a confidence for Bombardier's new jet.

The 160-seat CS-300.
What is likely scaring Boeing the most about Delta's order is that it has the option of substituting for the "stretched" version of the C-Series in the future.  While the CS100 may not go head-to-head with any of Boeing's current offerings, the 160-seat CS300 gets uncomfortably close to the 737-MAX range.

Boeing's protests likely have more to do with preventing the CS300 from entering the US market than the CS100.  While the smaller C-Series may not pose much of a threat, the CS-300 certainly does.

Ironically, the C-Series follows Boeing's example in following current trends in commercial air travel...  Only on a smaller scale.

Airbus A380.  
For years, Boeing enjoyed a near monopoly on the "jumbo jet" market.  The 747, with its wide-body and double-deck design, was able to carry more passengers than any other aircraft on the market.  Even contemporaries like the Airbus A340 and DC-10 could not match the 747's capacity, nor its sales.

What made the 747 so successful was widespread use of the "hub-and-spoke" airline model.  Passengers would embark at smaller airport, fly to centralized "hub" airport, then towards their final destination.  Larger "wide body" aircraft like the 747 were perfect aircraft for travel between "hub" airports, taking hundreds of passengers with a single flight.  Jumbo jets make for an incredibly efficient means of travel when every seat is full.

The Boeing 747 enjoyed this near-monopoly until the 2000s, when Airbus unveiled its A380.  Where as the 747 incorporated a distinctive "hump" with a single-aisle cabin, the A380 utilizes a complete "double-decker" design with substantially more seating than even the largest 747 variant.

Oddly enough, Boeing has no plans to compete against the A380 with a successor to the 747.  In fact, Boeing may soon end 747 production altogether.  This may seem like Boeing is conceding the market to Airbus, but the A380 has not exactly been a raging sales success.

The Boeing "Triple Seven".
Instead of trying to "one up" the A380 (and its own 747), Boeing instead concentrated on smaller airliners like the 777 and 787.  Both are long distance "wide body" aircraft that utilize fly-by-wire control and computer aided design for increased efficiency.  These aircraft can match the range of jumbo jets at a much lower cost.

Aircraft like the 777 and 787 have opened the market up for more "point-to-point" routes instead of the typical "hub-and-spoke".  Instead of flying a smaller plane to a hub, boarding another plane to another hub, then another towards a final destination, passengers can do the trip in a single flight.

This is a huge deal.

Increased security following 9/11 combined with the arrival of discount "no-frills" carriers has made air travel a much different beast compared to the 70s and 80s.  Customers no longer look at air travel as a luxury, but as a necessity.  They simply want to pay their money, get on the plane, and get to where they need to go.  Who wants to spend an entire day struggling through mind-numbing layovers, security gates, and overpriced gift shops when you can simply just get there.  

By offering more point-to-point routes, airlines are meeting the customer demand.  To do so they need smaller, more efficient aircraft then what has been the industry norm for the last 30 years...

Starting to sound familiar?

The Boeing 737...  Circa 1967.
Boeing's ubiquitous 737 first flew in 1967.  (Let that sink in for a moment...)

This 50-year-old aircraft has since become the best selling commercial airliner in history.  Throughout the years, the 737 has evolved into countless variants and sizes.  It has been used as the platform for several military aircraft, including the P-8 Poseidon.  If you have ever flown on an aircraft, there are good odds it was a 737.

Despite its age, Boeing still builds dozens of 737s a month in order to meet demand.  Since demand is so high, it has pushed forward a replacement until 2030...

Enter the C-Series.

Like Boeing's own 787, the C-Series is a modern jetliner utilizing composite materials.  This lets it fly the same routes with less passengers while still being profitable.  It also helps meet the demand for more point-to-point routes.  According to officials at Air Canada, the C-Series has a "CASM (cost per available seat mile) rates that are equivalent to much larger airplanes".

Scarier still to Boeing is Bombardier's interest in further expanding the C-Series line with the CS500. This 189-seat variant would strike right at the very heart of the 737 market.  While Boeing has managed to achieve a duopoly with Airbus for the full-size airliner market, the C-Series has the potential to shake up that market.

Having already conceded the "jumbo jet" market to Airbus in order to concentrate on the more "midsize" airliner market, Boeing now risks losing part of its substantial share of the "compact" airliner market.  A position it seems to have (until now) taken for granted.

Boeing has had 50 years to develop a successor to the 737.  Instead it has chosen to bet by on a series of upgrades such as more efficient wings, engines and other evolutionary changes.  Now that a newcomer has come forth, Boeing has been caught with their pants down.

Boeing could have followed the free-market mantra of "competition encourages innovation" and developing its own "right size" airliner.  Instead Boeing has chosen to meet the challenge using lawyers and lobbyists, instead of aerospace engineers.

Korean Air CS300
While the tariffs imposed by the US Department of Commerce may have hurt the C-Series, they are far from a death-blow.

The US Department of Commerce is far from a impartial entity, it is a politically appointed organization that is concerned solely with American interests.  Its decisions are often overturned by the US Court of International Trade (CIT).  Due to the 1988 Free Trade Agreement between Canada and the USA, cases involving "dumping or countervailing duties" can be heard by a panel with representatives from both nations.

As per Chapter 19:
In Article 1904, the two governments have agreed to a unique dispute settlement mechanism that guarantees the impartial application of their respective antidumping or countervailing duty determination by a bilateral panel with binding powers.  This will mean that producers in both countries will continue to have the right to seek redress from dumped or subsidized imports, but any relief granted will be subject to challenge and review by a binational panel which will determine whether existing laws were applied correctly and fairly.  Canadian producers who have in the past complained that political pressures in the United States have disposed U.S. official to side with complainants will now be able to appeal to a bilateral tribunal.  

In the meantime, Bombardier is still marketing the C-Series to international buyers.  Korean Air has ordered 10 CS300s, Air Canada has ordered 45, China's Loong Air has committed to 20, and so on.  Bombardier is said to have "doubled its efforts" to sell the C-Series to the emerging Chinese market.

In the end, Boeing's attempts to stifle the C-Series may backfire spectacularly.

By invoking the ire of both Canada and Britain, Boeing has jeopardized future sales of its defense division.  Not only has it all but lost an almost guaranteed Super Hornet sale to Canada, but it has put future contracts in danger as well.

Not only that, but Boeing may have given Bombardier the unintended gift of "street cred" in the competitive airliner market.  This battle has given the C-Series a lot of publicity over the last few months, and potential customers have to be asking why Boeing is so afraid of this little jetliner.

Sometimes it takes a newcomer to shake things up.  American car manufacturers were caught off-guard by more efficient cars built by the Japanese in the 80s.  GM and Ford lost enormous amounts of market share and have never recovered.  Bombardier's C-Series has the potential of doing similar damage to Boeing.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

"INTERIM FIGHTERS"... NOW WHAT?

Welp...  So much for that!
Thanks to "Trumponomics" the plan to acquire 18 F/A-18E/F Super Hornets is now effectively dead. While not yet official, Boeing has now positioned itself persona non grata to Canada's Liberal government.  After months of rhetoric and threats, the Liberal government would be foolish to back down on their threats to cancel its Super Hornet buy if Boeing continued its suit against Bombardier.

Procuring the Super Hornet at this point would be political suicide to the Liberal party.  They would be roasted, and rightly so, all the way to the next election.  In the meantime, they risk appearing weak in NAFTA talks.  Who would back down against a government full of empty threats?

Barring any last-minute compromise, the idea of a Canadian Super Hornet dead on arrival.  And we were so close, too.

What is Canada to do now though?  We still have a fleet of rapidly aging fighters and a "capability gap".  We need new jets.  Sooner, rather than later.

With that in mind, let us look at some of the options and how easily they could be amalgamated into the RCAF within a short time frame and limited numbers.

Maybe...  But probably not.
F-35 lovers have reason to celebrate.  Many still see the JSF as the de facto choice now that the Super Hornet is out of the running.  They may be right.  Canada is still part of the JSF industrial program, after all.

In its favor, the F-35 is much further along than it was two years ago (has it been that long) when now-Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stated his party would not buy the troubled stealth fighter.  This recent kerfuffle with Boeing gives the Trudeau government ample reason to renege on that promise.  The JSF program has its problems, but at least it is not actively trying to scuttle Canada's only major indigenous aerospace company.

Lockheed Martin has even offered the F-35 Lightning II as an "interim" fighter solution.  This option seems downright laughable considering that the JSF is still nowhere near ready for primetime.  They would also require a gargantuan amount of effort to fit into our existing infrastructure.  That effort may be worth it for an entire fleet, but not for a temporary addition of 18 aircraft.

Quite frankly, the only way a F-35 purchase would make sense as an "interim fighter" would be to buy a small amount (18) to operate alongside a more affordable fighter as part of a mixed fleet.  This would fulfill Canada's commitment to the JSF program and hopefully put the issue to bed.

Even without the the technical issues, settling for the F-35 would undoubtedly leave an incredibly bad taste in the government's mouth.  Not only would they be breaking an election promise, but they would be still be capitulating to the American government.  The same government that went above-and-beyond the 80% percent tariff petitioned by Boeing to a staggering 220%.

No less than the American government has set out to destroy Bombardier's (and by extension, Canada's) attempt to compete in the airliner market.

As I have stated in my previous blog post, Canada needs to reconsider the origin of any future military purchases.  Defending our economic interests is just as important as defending our military interests, if not more so.

Kuwaiti Air Force F/A-18C
Possibly one of the easier options is to opt for used legacy Hornets.  Both Australia and Kuwait plan on selling their current F/A-18C/Ds as they are replaced.  This idea has several advantages.  The aircraft would fit right in with Canada's current Hornet fleet.  While the aircraft would require some modifications to meet the RCAF standard, these would be relatively minimal compared to any other choice.  Additional training would likely be a non-issue, as would any logistic concerns.  For all intents-and-purposes, these used Hornets would be "plug-and-play".

As quick and easy adopting used Hornets into the RCAF would be there are several caveats.  Not the least of which is availability.  These aircraft are not available now, but "soon".  Both Kuwait and Australia are replacing their legacy fleets (with the Super Hornet and F-35, respectively).  They will not be willing to part with their old aircraft until new ones are delivered.  If Australia faces delays receiving Lightning IIs, Canada would have little choice but to sit and be patient.

Even if there is no delay, ordering used legacy Hornets does little to alleviate Canada's fighter problem.  Yes, we would have a few more fighters...  But they will still be decades-old aircraft with a dwindling parts supply.  Canada would also still be flying Boeing aircraft.

There is also a large political factor to consider.  Consider that the Trudeau government promised to cancel the F-35 purchase in favor of a smaller Super Hornet purchase...  Only to cancel that in favor of buying used fighters.  This would be ill-advised strategy for a political party that has been guilty of skimping on military spending in the past with disastrous results.

Used Hornets would be an easy option...  Just not a particularly desirable one.

The Dassault Rafale...  C'est bon?
Now more than ever, the European aircraft have a chance of securing a Canadian sale.  With both American fighter jet manufacturers out of Canada's good graces, we may be ready to see an upset.

The biggest upset would be Dassault's Rafale.  While it is an excellent all-around fighter, adopting it as an "interim" fighter makes little sense.  Its need to be thoroughly "Canadianized" to fit into the RCAF (weapon compatibility, etc) would seem to be an awful lot of work for just a handful of possibly temporary aircraft.

There is also the question of availability.  The Rafale has been on a bit of a roll lately, with sales to Egypt, India, and Qatar.  Canada may be forced to simply wait in line while Dassault fulfills current orders; a process that could take years.


One of the most enticing options for Canada's interim fighter could be the Eurofighter Typhoon.  The Typhoon would be an excellent fit for the RCAF as it checks off all the pertinent boxes.  It is already in wide use throughout NATO, it uses much of the CF-18s armament, it is a stellar performer, and it has two engines (for those that care about such a thing).

As far as availability is concerned, the Typhoon presents a several options.  Eurofighter is actively seeking customers for new-build aircraft but there are plenty of older Typhoons available.  This is thanks to the Typhoons bewildering amount of variants.  It is often more economical to replace older Typhoons instead of upgrading them to newer standard.  This means there are more than a few older models up for grabs.

One could be almost assured that Prime Ministers Trudeau and Elizabeth May touched on the possibility when they met a short while ago.  Considering that the UK has placed itself firmly in our corner of the Bombardier dispute, the idea of an RCAF Typhoon has now become a very real possibility.

Unfortunately, part of the reason why there are so many Typhoons available seems to be because there are a few disgruntled costumers.  The Typhoon has been notoriously finicky and costly to run, with reliability issues forming a dark cloud over the fighter.

Admit it...  You saw this coming.
Regular readers know of my fondness for the Gripen.  Like a piece of well designed IKEA furniture, the Gripen is a no-nonsense, low-frills, and low cost option.  Saab is remaining quite bullish regarding its Gripen E, marketing the aircraft as a low-cost option to the F-35.  Flight tests are currently underway and deliveries are set to begin in 2019.

Like the Typhoon, the Gripen would be a rather easy fit into the RCAF.  Most of the CF-18's arsenal is already in use on the Saab.  The Gripen is smaller aircraft with similar runway requirements, so it should not have any problems utilizing existing infrastructure.  Existing Gripen C/D models utilize an engine based on the CF-18s GE F404, reducing issues regarding parts and training.

As far as availability, the Gripen has it in spades.  Saab should have plenty of production capacity available thanks to Switzerland cancelling its order for 22 Gripen Es following a referendum.  Sweden is also in no particular rush to replace its own fleet of nearly-new Gripen C/Ds.  Saab is also in the habit of leasing Gripens so there is always the possibility of off-lease models becoming available.  Due to the nature of many Gripen buyers (not the aircraft itself) many Gripen airframes do little more than sit around doing nothing.

The biggest detriment to the Gripen (specifically the C/D models) is that it is not as capable as the CF-18 in some ways.  Less payload capability and range (both issues addressed with the E model) are the biggest strikes against it.  Like the F-35, the Gripen may work better as part of a mixed fleet.  It also does not the same political clout as the others.  Thus far, Saab has been hesitant to aggressively market the Gripen to Canada.  Hopefully this will change, as there has never been a better time to do so.

"Does anyone want to be my friend?'
The remaining option is to merely dismiss the "interim fighter" selection altogether.  The best way to do this would be to fast-track the selection of the full-time CF-18 replacement, using the information already available to pick a winner within the next year with deliveries starting in 2020 at the latest.

One can dream.

Hopefully, this whole messy business with Bombardier and Boeing will give the Canadian government incentive enough to give non-traditional options a thorough look.  The excuse that Canada needs American-sourced fighters for "interoperability reasons" only goes so far.

One thing is for sure, any further delays are unacceptable.

Pitter-patter...  Let's get at 'er.