The Department of National Defence has outlined six scenarios, or vignettes, to prospective suppliers of fighter aircraft. (1)
Vignette 1 - Conduct daily domestic and continental operations, including in the Arctic and through North American Aerospace Defence (NORAD). The Canadian fighter is conducting normal daily and contingency NORAD missions at normal alert levels, and is prepared to react to elevated alert levels. Operations are conducted from Main Operating Bases as well as Forward Operating Locations, and missions may be over land and over water. The threats for these missions can be air and maritime-based.
Vignette 2 – Support a major international event in Canada, such as the 2010 Olympics. The CAF is being employed in support to a major international event being held in Canada. Canada's fighter assets are based in Deployed Operating Bases and/or civilian airfields that are closer to the expected area of operations. The Canadian fighter will be used to prevent disruption during a major international event held in Canada. Given an identified threat, the fighter will prosecute any potential land, maritime, and air threats. If an attack does materialize, the fighter, combined with other joint assets, will be used to maintain over watch and negate further attacks.
Vignette 3 - Lead and/or conduct a major international operation for an extended period (Complex peace enforcement operation in a failed state).The CAF has been tasked to deploy in support of multi-national North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) operations in a failed state. An expeditionary fighter unit is included in this deployment, and will be based in a nearby nation that is sympathetic to NATO forces. The Canadian fighter will participate in this peace enforcement operation as part of a joint coalition effort. Civilian population and key infrastructure must be protected, and an environment conducive to an influx of humanitarian relief must be established. The Peace Support Operation will also use the Canadian fighter to locate and destroy known terrorist cells. Instability in the region may lead to a requirement to use the Canadian fighter to maintain sovereignty in the face of threatening neighbour states.
Vignette 4 - Lead and/or conduct a major international operation for an extended period (Coalition war fighting - state on state). Canada has committed the CAF as part of a coalition responding to the threat of aggression from a foreign state. Included in the CAF contribution to the allied force is a fighter expeditionary force aimed at helping to deter aggression from the threatening state. If deterrence fails, the threatening state will be defeated. State on state war fighting will require the conduct of the full-spectrum of operational capabilities in a joint coalition. The Canadian fighter aircraft will be deployed to a forward coalition base, and will make use of coalition support assets in any ensuring air campaign.
Vignette 5 - Respond to a major terrorist attack. A terrorist threat to Canada has been identified. This threat is in the form of an attack that is being planned abroad, is underway with weapons in transit, or has just taken place. Canada's fighter assets are based as per normal posture, and can be moved forward to Deployed Operating Bases or civilian airfields as dictated by the threat and intelligence on the situation. In the case of the attack being planned abroad, an expeditionary fighter unit will deploy to a sympathetic country in the region in preparation to support a pre-emptive, joint force attack. In the case of weapons in transit the Canadian fighter will be used to prevent the attack in progress, or respond to this major terrorist attack after it has occurred. Given the identified terrorist threat, the Canadian fighter will prosecute asymmetric land, maritime, and air terrorist threats before they strike. If an attack has already taken place, the Canadian fighter, combined with other joint assets, will maintain over watch and negate further attacks.
Vignette 6 - Deploy forces in response to crises elsewhere in the world for shorter periods (Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief). Canada has offered CAF units to assist in response to an international, United Nations-led humanitarian crisis or disaster. Included in this response is a deployed expeditionary fighter unit, which will be based alongside of other assistance efforts. The Canadian fighter will contribute to stabilization and policing missions, in support of international aid efforts. Relief efforts are hampered by criminal activity and general lawlessness, which pose a threat to the successful execution of the relief assistance.
The scenarios are not unreasonable. They reference the kind of roles the RCAF has been called on to play in the recent past and acknowledge the kind of capabilities the public and the politicians would expect them to have.
What is of particular interest is that only vignettes three and four call for a fully equipped front line fighter-bomber force. These scenarios, which describe the possibility of peer to peer combat, are the only ones which would need a new or “fifth” generation aircraft. Even then, vignette three basically describes a Libyan type campaign, which in the real world did not need aircraft with a robust air-to-air capability.
Most of the missions for which these aircraft are needed do not call for a jet with the qualities, and cost, promised by the F-35 and its competitors. As is often the case, the top twenty percent of capability adds fifty percent to the cost. The complexity that comes with that top twenty percent of capability comes at the price of lower availability rates. The added fifty percent in cost will come in the form of fewer aircraft purchased.
The answer appears obvious. Purchase a larger number of less capable aircraft that can fulfill the requirements of vignettes one, two, five and six, and a smaller number of aircraft for the less likely, but still necessary, roles that vignettes three and four require.
(1) Final Industry Engagement Request: Capability, Production and Supportability Information Questionnaire