If at some point it becomes apparent that the F-35 is unaffordable, or the program is so compromised that they become unavailable, some choices will have to be made. Contrary to what appears to be common wisdom, there are some choices.
F-16: The F-16 is still in production and the latest variants include advanced radars and options for advanced communications. As used examples come on the market the ubiquitous F-16 looks likely to be the aircraft of choice for second and third rank military powers. The newest models will be in service in one form or another for decades. An unlikely choice for
, a case could be made for them if the costs involved allowed a comparatively large number of aircraft to be purchased. Quantity, as they say, has a quality all its own, and the ability to deploy a significant number of aircraft, as opposed to the token numbers we do now, would be of value to any coalition which it suited Canada to join. At the same time larger numbers of aircraft would allow for real air-defence of Canadian cities. Canada
JAS 39 Gripen NG: Arguments in favor of the Gripen are similar to those for the F-16. Its shorter range and single engine, like the F-16, may not recommend it for long patrols over arctic wastes but in sufficient numbers it would be perfectly capable of mounting an air defence over major cities or supporting Canadian troop contingents overseas. Some, undoubtedly misguided, parties might even consider these efforts to be more important than protecting the tundra. The Gripen is a modern aircraft, a relatively new design capable of being refitted with all the latest bells and whistles as they become available.
Dassault Rafale: For several generations of fighters, Dassault specialized in relatively inexpensive (the word cheap can never be applied to modern jet aircraft) and relatively light fighters which found favour all over the world. A Combination of high performance and strong commercial instincts resulted in the sales of a lot of Mirage jets. With the Rafale the French have taken a leap of faith into the world of heavier and more expensive aircraft that were previously the preserve of
and multi-national companies. The Rafale is an excellent multi-purpose fighter which proved its worth over U.S. and won a recent Indian contract which was disputed by all the major manufacturers. The unlikelihood of the French fighter being purchased for the R.C.A.F. is balanced against just how attractive an offer Dassault would be willing to make to secure a North American sale. Libya
Eurofighter Typhoon: The Typhoon is probably the best pure interceptor available on the market. Its strong suit is shooting down other airplanes. Strike missions are secondary and as such the aircraft has suffered from a slower pace of development in the all-important field of dropping bombs accurately on people who don’t do what we tell them to do. These are problems which can be rectified and the Typhoon will undoubtedly achieve its intended status as a modern multi-role fighter. The Europeans are motivated to sell and keep production lines open. If the price was right a case could be made that a very good cost to benefit ratio could be achieved by buying this very advanced aircraft.
Boeing F-18E (Super Hornet): This aircraft is a strong contender for any Canadian default purchase of fighters. If the F-35 should prove too expensive or too controversial the F-18 in its latest form would make an acceptable and economic replacement for the older model F-18’s currently serving the R.C. A.F. A recent (May, 2010) U.S. Navy order for 124 F-18’s in both the strike-fighter and Growler electronic warfare variants for some five and a half billion dollars seems like a very good deal in comparison to projected F-35 costs. It has been argued that procuring an electronic warfare capability would offset the loss of stealth promised by the F-35 and insure a viable role for a CF-18 Super Hornet well into the future. It should also be noted that Boeing is offering enhanced low-observable (stealth) features for future versions of the Super Hornet.
A note here, so far these aircraft choices have been arranged in roughly the order that they are likely to be chosen by the R.C.A.F in lieu of acquiring the F-35 with the least likely being the F-16 and the most likely being the F-18E or some other variant of the Super Hornet. Less likely, but still not impossible, is an aircraft type not now in production, a new version of the F-15 Eagle.
Boeing F-15SE: The Silent Eagle is a proposed upgrade of the F-15E (itself an upgrade of the original single seat F-15C fighter) by Boeing using stealth features, such as internal weapons carriage and radar-absorbent material. It is a two seat aircraft and as such would represent a large added cost to the R.C.A.F. in the form of training and personal. If a single seat modernized F-15 using the stealth features of the proposed Silent Eagle and the latest Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar were to be made available (at the right price, needless to say) it would be a strong contender for any non-F-35 Canadian fighter purchase. Boeing take note.