What would Canada’s F-35 stealth fighter-bomber be used to do?

Published by Brent Patterson on

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Photo: US Marines load guided bombs onto an F-35.

Canada’s CF-18s intercept 6-7 aircraft each year 100-200 nautical miles from its coastline, but have conducted approximately 1,598 bombing missions over Iraq, Syria and Libya. This raises the question: What would be the primary mission of Canada’s F-35s?

It is widely expected that the Canadian government will select the Lockheed Martin F-35 in March/April 2022 to replace its current fleet of CF-18s.

It has been noted that this purchase would break a promise the Liberals made in 2015. Their election platform that year stated in bold: “We will not buy the F-35 stealth fighter-bomber.” But perhaps more significantly beyond the issue of a broken election promise is their acknowledgement of the F-35 as a “fighter-bomber”.

Forbes senior contributor Loren Thompson has highlighted: “In its fighter role it can clear the skies of opposing aircraft that threaten U.S. forces.” However, in the same paragraph he adds: “In its strike role, it can precisely destroy a vast array of targets on the ground (or at sea) with a dozen different smart bombs and missiles.”

For instance, the F-35 can carry GBU-12/Mk 82 laser-guided bombs.

The Characterisation of Explosive Weapons Project (CEW) says: “A standard Mk 82 bomb body produces a lethal area of approximately 80 m (across) by 30 m (along), giving a lethal area of approximately 2,400 m2.”

Also, when Reuters reported earlier this month that Finland had chosen to buy F-35s, it noted that “824 million euros [CAD $1.2 billion] will be reserved for the final optimised weapons package and to control future contract amendments”.

(It’s not clear how much Canada would spend on weapons for its F-35s or the intended use of its recently purchased 50 Sidewinder AIM-9X Block II Tactical missiles that have an explosive force of nearly 200 titanium fragmentation rods outward in all directions.)

Peter Chow has also commented: “The F-35 was never designed as an air-supremacy fighter. …The F-35’s forte is not air-to-air combat, but rather as a Stealth Fighter-Bomber.” Chow adds: “In a damning report in 2015, the F-35 was defeated in aerial combat by the 1970s vintage F-16, which it is supposed to replace.”

While defence of the Arctic is highlighted as the reason Canada needs fighter jets, there is the question about what the F-35 would primarily be used to do.

In August 2019, the National Report quoted a NORAD statement that said: “NORAD has intercepted an average of approximately six to seven Russian sorties annually entering its ADIZ since Russia resumed long range aviation patrols in 2007.”

(Former NORAD Deputy Commander General Thomas J. Lawson has stated that Canada’s Air Defence Identification Zone/ADIZ “stretches anywhere from a hundred to a couple of hundred nautical miles off shore”, in other words, in international airspace, compared to Canada’s territorial airspace which is 12 nautical miles from its coastline.)

By comparison, Canada’s current fleet of CF-18s has conducted an estimated 1,598 offensive bombing missions over the past 30 years.

Numerically this approximate 16:1 ratio suggests the predominant role of the F-35 could be as a stealth bomber on overseas deployments.

Additionally concerning is that Murray Brewster of CBC News has reported on the refusal by the Department of National Defence to disclose the casualty figures from CF-18 bombing missions in Iraq and Syria. We have asked that these figures be made public before billions of dollars are spent on new fighter jets.

Greater clarification on Canada’s intended use of its new fighter jets would assist in the public and parliamentary debate on this $76.8 billion expenditure.

The 45-word public rationale for Canada buying new fighter jets:

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