Canada’s F-35 Decision

By Billie Flynn

Canada’s ‘recommitment’ to the F-35 brought military defense of this nation back from the abyss of disinterest, neglect, and atrophy.  After such a long period where Canadians did not take defense matters seriously, the signal to continue with the F-35 project was viewed as a welcome change by our closest allies.

How could other nations take Canada seriously if we could not take ourselves seriously?

The RCAF and Canadian Armed Forces as a whole are now taking the leap to join the 21st century (already underway) and buying into the new generation of defense.

Committing to the F-35 is much, much more than just buying a new fighter jet.

Very few of the 37 million Canadians (who don’t really care about defense) ever ask about how far advancements in technology have transformed the conduct of warfare, right up until Putin invaded Ukraine.  That wake-up call made the average Canadian aware that a true, unstable actor existed and that even in the Canadian heartland, all was not safe.

For 15+ years, instead of talking about advancements in military technology and the revolution of capabilities, we were stuck debating 1 versus 2 engines on a fighter, stealth or not, drag chutes or not, and recently Swedish versus American technology, Ikea versus Walmart (ok…maybe a bad example).

What escaped the conversation was how F-35 would be the key enabler of Multi-Domain operations. 

No one explained how F-35 was to be the primary node for the space force, air force, army, and navy to communicate.  Lost in the Saab distraction was how a fighter plane could process data sent from spaceborne assets to prosecute an attack or defend against an adversary.  We did not illustrate how F-35 had functioned as a forward partner to effectively target over-the-horizon for a ground-based launch platform.

Nowhere in the discussions did anyone elaborate on how an F-35 would be able to link with a P-8 Poseidon or CP-140 Aurora, receive and transmit ISR data, while providing those platforms with more comprehensive Situational Awareness.

No one explained how a next generation aerial refueling platform could become an organic component of the communications node, key to passing on massive amounts of data to everyone on the net.

Finally, no one summed up how the future of warfare, enabled by F-35 would lead to a networked force collectively focused on an enemy, far more complex a notion than anyone would have imagined, even a decade ago.

Already, F-35 has transformed armed forces from Italy all around to the other side of the earth in Australia.

The transformation of the USMC beginning with V-22, then F-35 and now CH-53K into a truly lethal, mobile force projection capability is an excellent example of what the future holds.

Those interested must pick up Robbin F. Laird’s new book, “The U.S. Marine Corps Transformation Path” to read in-depth and understand these concepts far better than I can communicate in a blog entry.

Fighter planes fighting fighter planes goes back to WWI.  Fighter planes as part of a massive ground, sea, air, and space multi-national web is on the spectrum of sci-fi.   Canada has now joined the nations evolving their armed forces to fight in these multi-domain concepts.

Canada effectively rejoined NORAD after years as the poorly armed, half-committed brother to the North and now to move forward in lockstep with the US to modernize North American defenses.  Similarly, joining the club of 5th Gen brings Canada back to operate as true peers with western air forces and allows them to share the cosmic intelligence data that Canada otherwise would never have known existed.

Do 2 Eyes and 5 Eyes partnerships matter?

Everyone who lives in a classified world knows that people of the outside “Don’t know what they don’t know.”

For so long, many on the inside watched disheartened at the infantile debates in Canada about stealth or no stealth, 5th generation or no generation definitions and could not tell Canadians what they know exists on the other side of that classified curtain.  Soon the educated conversations will begin, and Canada will be entrusted as an equal security partner again.

The political gaming is not over yet, but a great majority of the antics are finished, and no permanent damage was done. So, do 2 Eyes and 5 Eyes matter?  I bet now that everyone knows that WWIII is a real possibility, they realize that all the intel coming from our closest partners about our very real enemies is invaluable!

Big leaps forward are required from the fighter force, the RCAF at so many levels and the Canadian Armed Forces as a whole.

The transformation that is coming with the procurement of the F-35 will force a wholesale change of how the business of warfare is conducted in Canada.

Let’s hope everyone in leadership positions can be briefed in as early as possible so that they can understand how to manage this revolution.  Let’s hope everyone can let go of the legacy mindsets and indoctrinate themselves into a 5th Gen, multi-domain mindset.

The 10-year delay incorporating F-35 into the RCAF will not permit a slow adoption of the 5th Gen technologies as our alliance partners have already moved on this.

Going from Pac-man to the Meta-Verse

This has to be an exciting time for the RCAF and young fighter pilots.  They are going to fly a data-gathering spaceship and jump into the 21st century…. from Pac-man to the Meta-Verse.

Canadians always believe that they don’t deserve the best, don’t need it.  They think of the military as a AAA hockey team instead of wanting an NHL caliber team. The Canadian culture of feeling not deserving, and that we can get by with second best comes from believing that Canada cannot run with the big dogs.

Well, there is a cost with that mentality…the cost of the lives of our fighter pilots sent into harm’s way.

I don’t want Canada to end up with something mediocre because the risk was always that we would send our men and women into combat with a less capable fighter, and they would not come home.

Having the best really does matter.  Luckily, we have.

This article was published by Flynn on May 6, 2022.

Featured photo: An F-35A Lightning II and P-51 Mustang fly in formation as part of a Heritage Flight during the Canadian International Air Show in Toronto, Sept. 2, 2018. The Heritage Flight display showcases the progression of our nation’s aviation history and represents the past, present, and future of Air Force airpower. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Jensen Stidham)

For a look at the Italian Air Chief of Staff and his view of the transformation associated with the Italian forces leveraging the F-35, see the following:

Shaping a Way Ahead for the Networked Integrated Force: An Italian Air Force Perspective