Globe and Mail op-ed calls for Canada to buy F-35s for Arctic defence

Published by Brent Patterson on

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Photo: An F-35 at Eielson Air Force Base in Alaska.

In this Globe and Mail opinion piece, University of Calgary political science professor Rob Huebert argues that Canada must buy F-35s given the threat of Russia’s military capacity and the “emerging battleground” of the Arctic.

Among other actions, Huebert notes that Finland recently announced that it will buy 64 F-35s and that in the next few years Norway will have accumulated 52, Denmark 27 and the United Kingdom 135 of these fighter jets.

Huebert argues: “Canada should also be taking as much – if not more – action as Northern European countries. But Canada is a laggard on the issue.”

He further notes: “On the critically important issue of protecting our Northern region in this context of growing militarization, which requires the purchase of F-35s and NORAD modernization, Canada has done nothing but make promises.”

A few points to consider:

1- The UK has committed to buying 48 F-35s, not the 135 (actually 138) that Huebert notes. Among the reasons cited by UK defence secretary Ben Wallace for cutting their order by 90 aircraft is the high maintenance/sustainment costs of the plane.

2- Huebert doesn’t directly provide an argument for the F-35 over the Swedish Saab Gripen (the other fighter jet competing in the Canadian acquisition process) other than perhaps the single line: “…the advanced stealth and interconnectivity of the F-35 provides a greater reaction speed to Russian weapon delivery systems…”

3- While Huebert highlights the importance of the F-35 for Arctic defence, he doesn’t mention some of the issues the F-35 has experienced with cold weather in Norway and Alaska. The NATO Association of Canada also published this article several years ago citing several concerns about the suitability of the F-35 for Arctic conditions.

4- It’s unclear why Huebert is impatient with the process. On December 21, Assistant Deputy Minister of Materiel Troy Crosby said the Canadian government still expects the first delivery of its new 88 fighter jets in 2025. That’s roughly the same timeframe that Norway’s smaller fleet of F-35s are expected to be fully operative.

5- While the F-35s could cost $76.8 billion. Huebert doesn’t see price as an issue. He points to “our Northern European allies and partners” responding to Russia “regardless of how expensive such decisions may be, economically and politically.”

6- Lastly, Huebert gives no context as to why the Arctic may be an “emerging battleground”. With 90 billion barrels of oil in the Arctic and Exxon, Texaco and Chevron securing patents in the early-1970s to exploit resources in a melting Arctic, a public debate on Canada buying new fighter jets merits an examination of the linkages between the militarization of the north and the existential threat of extractivism and climate change.

The Government of Canada says that the contract will be awarded in 2022. We continue to call for a public debate addressing these questions before a contract is signed.

The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives – Alternative Federal Budget 2022 calls on the Canadian government to cancel its planned $76.8 billion purchase of new fighter jets this coming March/April and redirect those funds to human rights and real human security.

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