The Trudeau government launched a bidding process last year to purchase 88 new fighter jets to replace the current fleet of CF-18s (that cost $4 billion to purchase in 1982, $2.6 billion to upgrade in 2010, with another $3.8 billion now budgeted to extend their lifespan).
The three transnational corporations bidding to win the multi-billion dollar contract are Boeing (with its F/A-18 Super Hornet Block III fighter jet), Lockheed Martin (with its F-35 Lightning II) and Saab (with its Gripen-E fighter jet).
Reuters reported: "Initial proposals are due in the spring of 2020, with a winner named early in 2022, and the first aircraft delivery to be scheduled for as early as 2025, a statement from the federal government said."
Mainstream media coverage lacking
There hasn't been much mainstream media coverage on this purchase other than reports on the F-35 contract being the odds-on favourite to be chosen, the corporations that have dropped out of the bidding process, the bid that provides the most industrial benefits for Canada and the best fighter jet for the needs of the Canadian military.
Largely missing in this coverage have been these key issues:
The actual cost of the fighter jets
While mainstream media reports repeatedly put the price tag for the fighter jets at $19 billion, the actual cost is likely to be considerably higher.
In March 2011, one CBC article reported that while the Conservative government had allocated $9 billion to buy 65 F-35s (at about $70 million per airplane), the parliamentary budget officer pegged the bill at $29.3 billion when the purchase price and sustainment costs for the fleet over 30 years were included in the calculation.
And in May 2018, the Canadian Press reported: "Canada has quietly paid another $54 million toward the development of the F-35 stealth fighter jets, bringing its total investment in the controversial project to roughly half a billion dollars over the last 20 years."
These numbers should be consistently in news reports, but they are not.
Fighter jets are killing machines
Lockheed Martin boasts: "In stealth mode, the F-35 can infiltrate enemy territory that other fighters can't, carrying 5,700 pounds of internal ordnance. Once air dominance is established, the F-35 converts to beast mode, carrying up to 22,000 pounds of combined internal and external weapons, to return to the battle to finish the fight."
The National Interest further highlights that F-35 armaments include a four-barrel 25mm gun that can fire 3,300 rounds per minute.
Air Force Technology notes that the Gripen E, not to be outdone, "features a 27mm all-purpose Mauser BK27 high velocity gun providing both air-to-air and air-to-surface attack capability" -- along with the bombs and missiles it carries.
Simply put, the F-18, F-35 and Gripen-E fighter jets are killing machines.
The David Suzuki Foundation explained: "A special characteristic of aircraft emissions is that most of them are produced at cruising altitudes high in the atmosphere. Scientific studies have shown that these high-altitude emissions have a more harmful climate impact because they trigger a series of chemical reactions and atmospheric effects that have a net warming effect."
Fighter jets have an even greater impact.
PhysLink.com noted: "Most US military aircraft can exceed 50,000 feet, if they really try." The Royal Air Force says, for instance, that the F-35 has a maximum altitude of 50,000 feet. In comparison, PhysLink.com adds, "Most commercial jetliners cruise somewhere between 30,000 and 45,000 feet above mean sea level."
It has also been suggested that an F-15 burns about 1.95 gallons of fuel a second, or about 117 gallons a minute. Boston University professor Neta C. Crawford said that fighter jets are so fuel-inefficient that their fuel use is measured in "gallons per mile," not miles per gallon, so "one plane can get five gallons per mile."
Furthermore, Crawford's June 2019 report "Pentagon Fuel Use, Climate Change, and the Costs of War" notes that the US Department of Defense operational consumption of petroleum was 87.4 million barrels in 2014.
Crawford highlights: "Jet fuel consumption by all the armed services accounted for more than 70 percent operational energy use that year. Although all services have aircraft, the Air Force is the largest use of petroleum jet fuel among the armed services."
We know that the federally-owned Trans Mountain pipeline could emit about 26 megatonnes of upstream emissions and about 71 megatonnes of downstream carbon pollution each year. Shouldn't the numbers also be known for these fighter jets?
Military spending endangers the Green New Deal
What else could $19 billion-plus buy? In short, a lot.
The Canadian Labour Congress' "One Million Climate Jobs" plan argued that $17.6 billion spent over a five-year period on public transit (improvements and expansion) would create a total of 223,000 "person job years" and reduce GHG emissions by 11 to 20 megatonnes.
By contrast, Lockheed Martin has stated, "According to the Statistics Canada model, approximately 50,000 jobs will be created in Canada through the selection of the F-35." Boeing and Saab appear to have been less specific on job numbers so far.
It's also important to note that the federal government already spends about $22 billion a year on the military and that in June 2017 the CBC (uncritically) reported the Liberals intend to increase that figure "by 70 per cent over the next decade to $32.7 billion."
On top of that, the Canadian Press reported (again uncritically) a government plan for a national shipbuilding strategy -- including the purchase of 15 new warships -- could cost almost $70 billion over the next quarter-century. Added to that, 18 new ships for the Canadian Coast Guard would cost another $15.7 billion.
Phyllis Bennis, a fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies, commented: "The Green New Deal must have anti-militarism at its core. Wars and the military render impossible the aspirations contained in the Green New Deal. And slashing the out-of-control military budget is crucial to provide the billions of dollars we need to create a sustainable and egalitarian economy."
With the transnational corporations bidding for the jet fighter contract this spring, and the decision to be made by 2022, it seems evident that CANSEC, this country's largest arms fair (to be held on May 27-28 in Ottawa this year) will be the scene of some full-court press marketing strategies to sell these weapons.
Last year, Saab arranged to have a full-scale replica of its Gripen fighter jet parked outside the EY Centre, where CANSEC is held. This kind of marketing is likely only to intensify this year.
The NoWar2020: Divest, Disarm, Demilitarize conference in Ottawa (on unceded Algonquin territory) this coming May 26-31 will be a key opportunity for the broader public to mobilize against the agenda of profiting from war and to call for a conversion to a peaceful, green and just future.
For more on the conference and the protest against CANSEC, please click here.
Brent Patterson is an activist and writer.
Image: Pavel Vanka/Flickr
Thank you for reading this story…
More people are reading rabble.ca than ever and unlike many news organizations, we have never put up a paywall – at rabble we’ve always believed in making our reporting and analysis free to all, while striving to make it sustainable as well. Media isn’t free to produce. rabble’s total budget is likely less than what big corporate media spend on photocopying (we kid you not!) and we do not have any major foundation, sponsor or angel investor. Our main supporters are people and organizations -- like you. This is why we need your help. You are what keep us sustainable.
rabble.ca has staked its existence on you. We live or die on community support -- your support! We get hundreds of thousands of visitors and we believe in them. We believe in you. We believe people will put in what they can for the greater good. We call that sustainable.
So what is the easy answer for us? Depend on a community of visitors who care passionately about media that amplifies the voices of people struggling for change and justice. It really is that simple. When the people who visit rabble care enough to contribute a bit then it works for everyone.
And so we’re asking you if you could make a donation, right now, to help us carry forward on our mission. Make a donation today.