It is sometimes hard to understand the Conservative governments' apparently intractable decision to purchase 65 F-35 fighters. On the face of it the choice makes little sense. It is the most expensive choice, an anomaly for a government that prizes fiscal responsibility. It is designed as a strike aircraft, not the long range interceptor the government says is needed to defend Canadian airspace. Why then the insistence on the F-35?
To understand the choice we have to look at traditional Canadian military strategy and how the F-35 fits into that strategy.
It has always been Canadian policy to leverage the effectiveness of military coalitions. From the earliest days of European settlements to the Cold war and beyond Canadian governments of all stripes have aligned the country with powerful allies in a generally successful policy of achieving defence on the cheap. Along with a policy of forward defence, i.e. fighting our wars in other peoples countries, Canadian military budgets have been spent on creating the least expensive force necessary for entry into the coalition or military alliance of choice. For example, if table stakes for membership in NATO is a brigade in Europe then that is what we will have. The brigade is not for the defence of Canada, the point is belonging to NATO, which will hopefully defend Canada.
From it's earliest days the F-35 has been seen and designed as a “coalition” aircraft. Both from an industrial and a military point of view it was planned as the aircraft of choice for all western allies. As a strike aircraft, with good secondary abilities as a fighter, it is suited for any allied adventure ranging in scope from the bombing of Libya to the invasion of Iraq. As a contribution to an alliance its’ design stresses connectivity. Connectivity is an over worked expression that does apply to the F-35. If it works as designed it can literally connect all the allies who use it in a seamless digital net.
Seen in this light the choice of the F-35 becomes obvious. 65 F-35 fighters can not begin to defend Canada. 65 F-35 fighters are a minimum investment in our alliance with the United States. By reassuring our allies we buy entry into defence alliances which promises military security at minimal costs.