Monday, 15 April 2013


 James Hasik continues to provide the kind of sophisticated analysis that Canadian Defence Review can only aspire to. In an April 3rd, 2013 post entitled “How the US may buy at most 750 F-35s” he provides the math to show that “one gets about 6.2 late-model fighter jets for about every billion dollars in total annual military spending” (1)

Even after playing with the math, deleting the top and bottom of the curve and some of the outliers (how can Greece afford 200 fighters anyway?) I still end up with a figure of something like 5.9 jets per US billions of dollars in total annual military spending. (The raw figures are provided below for those who wish to make their own calculations.)

By this measure Canada should have, and in theory can afford, (18.36 billion dollars in defence spending times a ratio of 5.9) something like 108 jet fighters. Currently Canada has some 77 F-18’s in service. Why this discrepancy? Perhaps the mistake comes from adding in countries that don’t have first world type economies.

Perhaps we should consider only first world economies like Japan, France, the UK, Spain, the Netherlands, Norway and Australia, countries with an average GDP in some cases of less then Canada’s. (2)  If we do, we still come out with a ratio implying something like 4.65 jets per billion spent on defence for a total of at least 85 jets. This is a figure not far from the average number of jet fighters that we previously maintained.

Yet the government says that 65 jets, or 9 billion worth, which ever comes first, are the most we need/can afford. There may be even fewer, according to the KPMG report (3) on F-35 acquisition “DND has advised that their risk mitigation strategy ... is to reduce the number of aircraft acquired,” the analysis states. “This could reduce the initial fleet to as low as 55 aircraft, which is below DND’s current stated requirements.” (3)

So how did we get to 65, or perhaps 55, as the governments preferred figure? Perhaps they are not aware of Augustine’s 16TH law. In a book published in 1983, Norman Augustine (4) plotted the exponential growth of unit cost for fighter aircraft since 1910 and extrapolated it to its obvious conclusion:” In the year 2054”he explained “the entire U.S. defence budget will purchase just one aircraft. This aircraft will have to be shared by the Air Force and Navy 3½ days each per week except for leap year, when it will be made available to the Marines for the extra day.”

Fortunately in Canada there is only one service permitted to leave the ground under its own power. Given the 6 roles that were suggested to the prospective providers of jet fighters (5) perhaps in 2054 the RCAF will be able to fulfill each of these roles for just one day each week, with Sunday given over to training the two or three pilots necessary to fly the only aircraft on strength.

Three decades on, Mr. Augustine has been quoted as saying “we are right on target. Unfortunately nothing has changed.” In the long run, high unit costs have limited numbers. Since the 1970’s, the western world’s fleets of combat aircraft have shrunk, even as defence spending has increased. (6)

The question is, how do we escape this downward spiral? The F-35 was supposed to be the answer. It was initially designed to be no more expensive to purchase and less expensive to maintain then the fighters that proceeded it. That claim has turned out to be an illusion. For all its faults and detractors, and they are legion (7), that is it’s greatest disappointment. It has not been able to escape the inexorable pull of Augustine’s 16th law.

Even if the F-35 turns out to be able to meet all the technical specifications that its proponents give it credit for, its inability to meet its financial goals of affordability make it a failure. New kinds of thinking, radical ideas, and people willing to take the risks inherent in independent reasoning are going to be needed if we are to avoid a one fighter future and provide for the defence of Canada 

Country          Spending         Jets

US                  645.70           2,682
China              102.44              673
UK                    64.08             232
Russia                59.85             771
Japan                 59.44             201
Saudi                 52.50             256
France               48.12             267
Germany           40.36             181
India                  38.54             272
Brazil                 35.27               -
S. Korea            28.98             224
Australia           25.09               95
Iran                    23.93              36
Italy                   23.63            134
Israel                 19.37             395
Canada              18.36              77
Turkey               16.95            231
Iraq                    14.73               -  
Spain                  11.78           128
Netherlands       10.44             72
Taiwan               10.32            203
Singapore            9.68              84
Poland                 8.64              74
Greece                 7.62            200
Norway               6.85              57

(1) How the US may buy at most 750 F-35s

(2) List of countries by GDP (nominal) per capita

(2) List of countries by GDP (PPP) per capita

(3) Next Generation Fighter Capability: Independent Review of Life Cycle Cost

(4) Augustine’s Laws

(5)  Final Industry Engagement Request: Capability, Production and Supportability Information Questionnaire

(6) The cost of weapons; Defence spending in a time of austerity

(7) F-35 Posts