Wednesday, 15 August 2012


I have written before about the concept of Leverage. It would appear that there is more then one way of regaining some control over negotiations for a future fighter.

On August 6 it was reported in the Ottawa Citizen that:

“The Conservative government approved last month the issuing of a request to aerospace firms to provide details about the types of drones now available. Companies have until Sept. 28 to provide the information.

Senior Canadian defence leaders pitched the idea of spending up to $600 million for armed drones to take part in the Libyan war shortly before the conflict ended, according to documents obtained by the Citizen.

And while the death of Libyan leader Col. Moammar Gadhafi effectively ended the war and scuttled the Defence Department’s plans, the military has now re-launched its program to purchase unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) that can be outfitted with missiles and other bombs. According to DND documents the military intends to spend around $1 billion on the project.

The Conservative government approved last month the issuing of a request to aerospace firms to provide details about the types of drones now available. Companies have until Sept. 28 to provide the information.

In its request to the industry, the government pointed out the need for the unmanned aircraft to operate in the Arctic. The aircraft should also be able to carry precision-guided munitions, the government said.

“This capability will allow the CF (Canadian Forces) to fill critical deficiencies,” industry officials were told in the request for information sent to them July 23.

The Canadian Forces has used unarmed UAVs at various stages during the Afghan war. But it has been trying to purchase a new fleet of armed drones for years.

In 2007, the Citizen reported the Defence Department had asked the Conservative government for approval to buy the American-built Predator drones for the Afghanistan mission. That request was denied because of concerns in cabinet and the federal bureaucracy that the deal would be non-competitive.

The government eventually approved the lease of Israeli-built UAVs from MacDonald Dettwiler and Associates in Richmond, B.C. Those unarmed Heron aircraft operated out of Kandahar Airfield.

The DND started its project to purchase armed UAVs in 2008 but that stalled because funding had to be diverted to other equipment programs.

Documents obtained by the Citizen show that military leaders saw the Libyan war as a possible way to move its stalled UAV program forward. According to a briefing presented Aug. 16, 2011 to Defence Minister Peter MacKay, they pointed out that the purchase of such aircraft for the Libyan conflict could kick start their larger project to buy UAVs for both domestic and international missions.

Responding to high-level government discussions on ways to address future operational needs for the war, Canadian Forces planners detailed a proposal to purchase a fleet of armed unmanned aerial vehicles at a cost of roughly $600 million.

While that was expected to take up to a year, they also outlined a concurrent proposal to obtain on loan a fleet of such aircraft that could be sent into battle almost immediately.

“Using loaned assets and personnel, a UAV capability with the ability to start operations within the next (censored) is feasible,” according to the briefing. “However, this would require complete government commitment and support from (name of country censored).”

It is something of a surprise to find out that there is a constituency within the DND for drones with this degree of sophistication. It may be that whatever the institutional biases of the individual services, armed drones hold a powerful appeal for the politicians. The ability to be seen, by both our allies and the electorate, to be making a meaningful contribution to coalition efforts without having to hazard Canadian lives would be hard for an elected government to ignore. (Or not abuse, but that’s a story for another day)

Also of interest are these excerpts from a piece by Jonathan Jeckell at Information Dissemination:

“Consider the US Air Force’s position with the F-35A. The F-15 Silent Eagle program continues to quietly reach new milestones and spawned from one of the most successful aircraft in US Air Force history.  The F-15 Silent Eagle seems to provide highly advanced and competitive features at a reasonable price.  It might seem that the F-15 Silent Eagle would be just the leverage they are looking for to provide a credible alternative to the F-35 and the limited quantity of F-22s.  Theoretically, the US Air Force could threaten to abandon the project and go with a safer, more evolutionary pathway, like the US Navy did with their F/A-18E/F “upgrades” rather than suffer a risky transition to a whole new platform.

So could the US Air Force credibly use the F-15 Silent Eagle, either as a negotiating tactic, or as a gap-filling purchase to lower risk while waiting for the F-35A?  No.  The US Air Force is caught in conflicts with two negotiating partners, not just one.  The US Air Force is counting on the capabilities promised by the F-35A, to them, the F-15 Silent Eagle would be a disappointing replacement if Congress took their threat seriously.  Moreover, allied buyers and the US Air Force have had their purchases cut as costs soar and budgets plummet. All the F-35 buyers are locked into a high-stakes game of Prisoner’s Dilemma.  Each cut in the number of aircraft purchased increases the cost per aircraft each remaining F-35 buyer must pay to amortize fixed costs, such as research and development. Any defector for another platform or reduction in purchases could trigger a stampede.  The US Air Force, as the single biggest buyer, could trigger such a stampede merely by acknowledging the possibility alternatives.  Unlike the US Air Force, many value minded F-35 buyers find other aircraft, such as the Eurofighter Typhoon, Rafael, used F-16s, Su-30, or the Saab JAS 39 Gripen, just to name a few, quite competitive alternatives.  Early defectors would beat the crowd to get these alternatives early, while laggards either get stuck footing the bill, or get put on the waiting list.

The US Navy alone has the leverage to sit on the sidelines and watch the show with the satisfaction of being able to walk away.  The Chief of Naval Operations clearly signaled as much in an article recently at Proceedings.  His post downplayed the importance of stealth and the advantages brought by this technology over a range of other options available to the US Navy, including the electronic warfare capabilities of the EA-18G Growler in support of various aircraft as “trucks” for payloads. The Super Hornet is also a large aircraft with lots of internal capacity for modular upgrades and modifications to facilitate rapid adaptation against emerging threats, balancing the best qualities of standardization and variety. But is a modular, adaptable aircraft good enough to compete with integrated high-end fighters like the F-22?  I don’t know. But the US Navy has the breathing room to make that decision deliberately and calmly.  The US Navy alone has avoided painting itself into a corner and now has the intellectual bandwidth free to focus on new ways to use its payloads and platforms in new ways by focusing on the interaction among its systems and doctrine, rather than fixating on making a particular technology work.”

What is also interesting here is to consider the implications this has for the F-35 in Canadian service. Canadian involvement in the bombing of Libya has been considered a possible template for and a justification of the use of F-35’s. Their much vaunted “stealth” giving the pilots near invulnerability from the degraded anti-aircraft assets of a state such as Libya. Now we discover that Drones were contemplated for the campaign.

In fact a force of Drones, unarmed for use as national patrol assets or armed for use in coalition operations like those over Kosovo or Libya, would undercut many of the arguments in favour of purchasing F-35’s. They would not be cheap (see drones) but coupled to a purchase of F-18 Super Hornets for domestic use they would meet our needs. Just having the option would give us much needed leverage in our negotiations with Lockheed Martin for F-35’s.