How much will Canada spend on bombs, missiles and bullets for its new F-35 warplanes?

Published by Brent Patterson on

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Photo: US Marine Corps.

The U.S. weapons manufacturer Lockheed Martin has highlighted: “The F-35 carries weapons internally in stealth configuration, or externally in permissible environments with greater than 18,000 pounds of total ordinance.”

The company has also noted: “All variants of the F-35 will carry JASSM or LRASM, providing increased reach, lethality and survivability against heavily-protected, strategic targets and increasing the ability to deter near-peer adversaries.”

Both the Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile (JASSM) and the Long Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM) have immense destructive capabilities.

It has also been reported by Business Insider that: “All three F-35 variants are equipped, in one configuration or another, with a 25 mm GAU-22/A four-barrel Gatling gun, which is capable of firing over 3,000 rounds a minute.”

How much will we pay for this “payload”?

We can look to Finland for some clues on this cost.

On February 11, 2022, Air & Space Forces Magazine reported: “Finland finalized its $9.4 billion purchase of 64 Lockheed Martin F-35s and support services.”

That article adds: “The acquisition will be managed through the U.S. Foreign Military Sales program. …A separate letter of acceptance will be signed later this year for the provision of Sidewinder and AMRAAM air-to-air missiles to equip the fighters…”

Aviacionline Defensa has also reported: “The cost of the multi-role fighters is €4.7 billion and that of the AMRAAM and Sidewinder air-to-air missiles is €754.6 million (initial armament package). …In addition, EUR 823.8 million is set aside for the final optimized armament package and for controlling future modifications to the contract. Some of the armament will be procured at a later date, depending on the aircraft delivery schedule.”

If Finland is spending €754.6 million (CAD $1.095 billion) for its initial armament package and setting aside €823.8 million (CAD $1.195 billion) for an optimized armament package for its 64 F-35s, how much will Canada be spending for its 88 F-35s?

$1 billion for missiles, radar and equipment for CF-18s

A recent purchase by Canada for its CF-18s may also help give us a sense of the cost.

In June 2020, Ottawa Citizen journalist David Pugliese reported: “The U.S. State Department approved the proposed sale to Canada for the 50 Sidewinder AIM-9X Block II Tactical missiles, radars and other various equipment for an estimated cost of $862.3 million U.S. ($1.1 billion Canadian).”

While we don’t know how much of the $1.1 billion was spent on missiles, we can say with some certainty that if Canada is buying 88 F-35s, it will want more than 50 missiles to equip those planes and that these costs should be publicly accounted for.

PBO to calculate the costs

Now, Pugliese also reports: “The parliamentary budget officer will examine the Liberal government’s decision to buy the U.S.-built F-35 stealth fighter and has now requested information about the deal from National Defence.”

“PBO Yves Giroux sent a letter to Defence Minister Anita Anand on Jan. 16 outlining the data he is requesting from her department. ‘In order to provide the analysis to parliamentarians in a timely manner, I ask the information be provided to my office no later than February 13, 2023,’ Giroux noted in his request.”

“The request includes the financial risk analysis prepared for the aircraft procurement, planned flying hours for the F-35 fleet, details about the projected operating costs, a copy of the agreement signed with the U.S. government to provide the F-35 and an annual summary of what Canada spent on the F-35 development.”

Pugliese adds: “In 2010 and 2011, National Defence officials fought PBO efforts to obtain information about the proposed F-35 purchase, withholding key data from the watchdog office. Then-PBO Kevin Page noted it appeared National Defence kept two sets of books on F-35 cost figures, one a low-ball figure for public consumption and another the real costs of the project. Those efforts misled Parliament, he added.”

Past calculations by DND on armaments were also “misleading”

In his report The Plane That Ate the Canadian Military Life-Cycle Cost of F-35 Fleet Could Reach $126 Billion (April 2014), Michael Byers wrote:

Initially, DND anticipated spending $270–300 million on weapons and bombs to equip a fleet of F-35s. But in 2013, that amount was reduced to $52 million, with the DND Update stating:

Weapons currently in the Canadian Armed Forces inventory that can be employed on the F-35A fleet will be retained. In the case of the F-35A, the project acquisition cost estimate provides for the acquisition of an initial stock of gun ammunition and countermeasures (e.g., flares), as the existing stock of CF-18 gun ammunition and flares are incompatible with the F-35A. Over the life cycle of the replacement fleet, the acquisition of newer weapons will be considered and funded as separate projects.

The approach taken in the DND Update is misleading. Any weapons that foreseeably need to be acquired for the F-35s during their operational lifespan should be included within the total life-cycle cost of the fleet rather than treated as separate projects. For this reason, this report uses the low end of DND’s initial estimate for weapons ($270 million), which, after deducting the current estimate of $52 million, results in the addition of $218 million.

Timeline and questions

It is believed that Canada had already signed a contract to purchase 88 F-35s when Defence Minister Anand announced the deal on January 9.

That will be confirmed if the PBO receives, as it has requested, the copy of the agreement signed with the U.S. government to provide the F-35 no later than February 13.

Given the example of Finland, it’s possible that Canada has or will sign a separate agreement for the bombs, missiles and bullets for the F-35.

Greater transparency on this question is needed.

We look forward to the PBO report this Spring.

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