Questions emerge about the “economic benefits” of the F-35 warplane for Canada

Published by Brent Patterson on

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Photo: F-35 warplane.

While the “economic benefits” of a warplane are at best a cold calculation, it is a bar that has been set in mainstream narratives.

Last month, the Government of Canada announced it would be entering negotiations with Lockheed Martin for the purchase of 88 of its F-35 fighter jets.

At that time, the federal Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry François-Philippe Champagne stated: “The resulting economic benefits will help sustain and grow [the Canadian aerospace sector’s] global leadership position.”

And just last year the NDP’s election platform promised: “In contracting for new military equipment, including ships and fighter jets, New Democrats will ensure maximum industrial benefits and jobs. This will help ensure the survival of healthy shipbuilding and aerospace industries all across Canada.”

The CBC has also reinforced this narrative.

Earlier this month, it reported: “More than 100 years after shipyard workers in Lunenburg, N.S., shaped wood and metal to build the Bluenose schooner, the tradition of local, hand-built excellence lives on. But now, instead of fishing boats, it’s fighter jets.”

That article further notes that the Toulouse, France-based Stelia Aerospace facility in Lunenburg has been contracted to, for example, build shims to help open and close the weapons bay doors of F-35s sold to other countries.

But it adds: “The parts being handcrafted at Stelia and other sites across the country could one day be built into planes flown by the Royal Canadian Air Force.”

Only “could” at this point.

This article in La Presse raises more doubts about economic benefits.

It reports: “By opting for the American manufacturer’s F-35 to replace its old CF-18s, the Trudeau government has embarked on a process that offers no guarantee that maintenance and training for these fighter jets will take place in Quebec.”

The article also notes: “In the aerospace industry, sources, who did not want to speak publicly for fear of remonstrances from Ottawa, say they are surprised by the opacity of negotiations to finalize the purchase of 88 fighters at a cost of USD $19 billion. Many deplore the lack of clear prior commitments before starting the dialogue.”

It adds: “Who will be the privileged partners of the multinational? What kind of spin-offs will it be? Where will the work be done? These questions are unanswered.”

For example, it’s unclear if Mirabel-based L3Harris will secure a contract for parts replacement and engine maintenance for the F-35 or if Saint-Hubert-based CAE Inc. will be contracted to provide simulator training for Canadian pilots of the F-35.

The article also quotes David Chartrand of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAMAW) “who fears that there will be only crumbs left on the maintenance side if Lockheed Martin refuses to release [the intellectual property rights-protected technical] data” for the technologically-advanced fighter jet.

On March 28, federal Procurement Minister Filomena Tassi stated the negotiations with Lockheed Martin could take as little as seven months. That means the contract could be signed as early as late-October.

When Tassi made that comment, Ottawa Citizen journalist David Pugliese tweeted: “Govt officials asked what exactly is there to negotiate as previous MOU outlined Canada’s participation in F-35 process.”

He further asked: “Why discuss details about cost after Lockheed Martin has been told their plane is to be bought?”

Several days later, Tassi commented on CTV: “At the end of the day, when this contract is signed, there will be guaranteed industrial benefits.”

Only “will be” even after the F-35 has been selected and the government’s bargaining power with world’s largest weapons company has been weakened.

It is also notable that while the economic benefits may not be certain at this point, Lockheed Martin had implied a loss of current benefits if not chosen.

In August 2020, CBC reported: “Should Canada not choose the F-35, [Steve] Callaghan [Lockheed Martin’s vice-president of F-35 business development] said, the existing contracts [which could include the one in Lunenburg], which are currently worth $2 billion, would be honoured for the duration of their commitment but might go elsewhere.”

Callaghan stated: “Future contracting would likely be placed using industries and best value for those nations that are procuring the F-35.”

The anti-militarism movement in this country rejects how the F-35 would be used given Canada’s fleet of CF-18s were sent on at least 1,598 bombing missions overseas and would be stationed on militarized Dene territory in northern Alberta.

That said, questions and concerns are now being raised even within the considerably narrower frame of so-called economic benefits.

CBC reports: “The [Nova Scotia-based] company [owned by the French transnational Stelia Aerospace] builds many different parts for the aircraft, ranging from panels used as part of the fuselage, to shims used to help open and close the weapons bay doors on the underside of the jet.” It’s not clear if it will get the contract for the Canadian F-35s.

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