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EXCLUSIVE: Leaked National Defence Docs show bureaucrats rigging fighter replacement

The Western Standard has received an 800-page leak from the Department of National Defence revealing a bureaucracy defying the elected arm of government over the CF-18 fighter jet replacement.

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This is part 1 in an ongoing Western Standard feature examining leaked F-18 fighter replacement program documents.

OTTAWA, ON: The Western Standard has received an 800-page leak from the Department of National Defence revealing a bureaucracy defying the elected arm of government over the CF-18 fighter jet replacement. With tens of billions of taxpayer dollars on the line, the documents raise serious questions about Cabinet’s ability to manage major procurements. 

The leaked Future Fighter Capability Project (FFCP) draft was received with a simple question attached, “does this look rigged for the F-35?”

The short answer is “yes.” The request for proposal (RFP) in the documents was rigged to benefit the Lockheed Martin F-35.  This is another regrettable example of “Yes Minister” style antics in Canadian defence history, with top Defence bureaucrats leading the Defence Minister at best or openly defying his orders at worst.  This could have been avoided if the younger Trudeau only followed his father’s example instead of repeating his mistakes. 

The selection of the CP-140 under Pierre Trudeau in the 1970s did not go smoothly. Then Liberal Minister of Supply and Services Jean-Pierre Goyer accused one of the senior civil servants running the program of “gross negligence” and of “misinforming” cabinet before the minister had the civil servant removed from the project. Unwilling to repeat the mistakes of the CP-140 procurement, Pierre Trudeau put in place several checks and balances on the New Fighter Aircraft (NFA) program. The NFA was designed with the clear goal of replacing the fighter jets we had with a new jet that met the technical requirements of the missions we flew at the best value with full industrial offsets. 

While the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) leadership insisted that the large and expensive F-15 was the right jet for Canada; the CF-18, the least expensive jet in the competition that met the minimum requirements, was selected as the winner. As history is fond of repetition, today’s RCAF clearly favours the F-35, the most expensive jet in the competition.

The new RFP demands capabilities far beyond what the CF-18 can deliver, both at home and abroad. The strike mission scenarios represent an unreasonably high number of points, include missions we have historically left to the Americans, and are clearly biased towards the F-35’s passive stealth advantages. In short, this RFP looks like it was written with inflated requirements to minimize the points score of the least expensive jet in the competition: the Saab Gripen-E. I believe this was done so that the Gripen can’t win in Canada like it won in Brazil.  

Liberal Defence MinisterHarjit Singh Sajjan

In Brazil’s fighter competition, the Gripen-E was rated as slightly less capable than the first place French Rafale, but the Gripen won because it offered full industrial benefits, would be assembled in Brazil by Embraer, and was the best value with a total cost of ownership half that of the Rafale. The Brazilian contest clearly demonstrated that the Swedish Gripen is the least expensive jet that can replace the CF-18, saving the Canadian taxpayer billions of dollars.

During the 2015 election, Trudeau promised to purchase a less expensive alternative to the F-35 and said that the savings would be directed toward Navy shipbuilding. While the CF-18 replacement program is ongoing, the Liberals have already increased shipbuilding commitments by tens of billions of dollars.

Originally five manufacturers were invited to participate. Thus far, the French (Dassault Rafale) and the British (Airbus Eurofighter) have walked away from the competition over issues with the RFP being biased towards the American F-35. With a minority government, the opposition will have to hold Trudeau and the bureaucrats at the Department of National Defence (DND) accountable.

The Green party made it clear that they would oppose any F-35 purchase.  Early in the campaign, the NDP said that they would only support a fighter that was made-in-Canada. With the other Europeans out, the Saab Gripen is the only jet in the competition that would be made in Canada.  Saab has an existing partnership with Bombardier and it’s likely that the Bloc represented riding of Mirabel would become home to a multi-billion-dollar Saab/Bombardier Gripen factory. With so many jobs on the line in Quebec, the Bloc has every incentive to pay close attention to this file.

Defence scholars Anton Bezglasnyy and Douglas Ross warned that the F-35 has the potential of being “the plane that ate the Canadian Navy.” Respect for the taxpayer and respect for the military are not mutually exclusive concepts in Sweden. They shouldn’t be in Canada.

This is part 1 in an ongoing Western Standard feature examining leaked F-18 fighter replacement program documents. 

Alex McColl has a Master of Public Policy degree from the University of Calgary, where he wrote his capstone thesis “CF-39 Arrow II: A Swedish Solution to the CF-18 Replacement Problem” on the CF-18 replacement procurement.

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EXCLUSIVE: Defence bureaucrats inflated fighter replacement program, and it could cost taxpayers billions

Canadian taxpayers would be right to ask why the RCAF needs such an expensive first strike capability, especially given how it will inflate the costs of performing our NORAD and NATO air policing missions by over $10 billion.

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This is Part III of an ongoing Western Standard feature examining leaked F-18 fighter replacement program documents.

Read Part I
Read Part II

The public line from the federal government is that the CF-18 fighter replacement program is coming along just fine, and that defence bureaucrats are conducting an open and fair competition. 

This is called into question by 800 pages of leaked documents obtained by the Western Standard showing that defence bureaucrats are defying their political orders by inflating the replacement program requirements in favour of the F-35, the most expensive option by far. At stake are Canada’s air defence capabilities, and billions of dollars in federal taxpayer funds.

The strike scenarios in the Future Fighter Capability Project (FFCP) draft RFP all involve a hypothetical war between a Western NATO equipped “Blueland” and an aggressive “Redland” armed with the latest Russian weapons. This is standard jargon for wargames.

Scenario 3 is laughable, as it reads like a subtle insult to the Prime Minister for his 2015 promise to spend more on the navy. In this scenario, Redland sends a state-of-the-art Russian S-400-armed frigate down an unnamed Blueland river (that looks like the St. Lawrence) to attack a Blueland port (that looks like Quebec City). The Blueland navy is nowhere to be found, thus leaving the Air Force to save the day. When I shared this scenario with a naval expert, he said that this scenario sounds like a job for Canada’s new Type-26 Frigates: the ships Trudeau promised to spend more money on instead of buying the F-35. Only a naval warship can perform a blockade, intercept another ship, and deescalate a conflict. 

Instead, two fighters are asked to sink six small fast boats and disable the frigate. Weapon configurations are not dictated, but the requirement to sink 6 small boats and only temporarily disable the frigate’s S-400 system, suggest the mission should be flown using small weapons that fit inside an F-35. The Gripen gains little to no advantage for supporting the new Saab RBS15 Odin’s Spear anti-ship missile, one of the more advanced large anti-ship weapons in NATO’s arsenal. A weapon that is also supported on the made-in-Canada Saab/Bombardier Swordfish: the leading contender to replace our aging CP-140 maritime patrol aircraft.

Swedish Saab Gripen-E armed with anti-ship missiles. Photo by Jerry Lindberg (Copyright Saab AB)

Scenario 4 is a combination of defensive and offensive counter air missions against a Redland defended by S-400 Integrated Air Defence Systems (IADS), and a mix of Su-57 and Su-35 fighters. While unlikely, it is not entirely unreasonable to assume that sometime in the next 30 years NATO nations may be called upon to bomb a dictator who possess some of these impressive Russian weapons. However, the way the strike is designed represents a departure from how coalition forces have historically neutralized modern IADS and from how Canada participated with the CF-18. 

In the First Gulf War and Libyan campaign, IADS were targeted for destruction in the opening salvo of naval cruise missiles, American stealth strikes (F-117 over Iraq, B-2 over Libya), and coalition air launched cruise missiles. Surviving SAM sties were then ruthlessly hunted by specialized SEAD fighters. In both conflicts, the CF-18s transitioned from defensive counter air, to offensive counter air, to bombing missions only as the enemy’s air defences were significantly weakened. If these are the future weapons the RCAF will be up against, then we should ensure that the Royal Canadian Navy’s Type 26 Frigates have enough money in the budget to be armed with modern long-range cruise missiles.

While the Saab Gripen-E, armed with meteor missiles, should prove capable of performing the offensive counter air mission as written, the method points are awarded gives an unfair advantage to the F-35. Only the F-35 is likely to earn the maximum points for getting close to the S-400 system and for threatening the enemy A-50 Airborne Early Warning & Control (AEW&C) aircraft. 

Points in every scenario can be deducted by the Department of National Defence’s (DND’s) evaluators based on a risk factor. The strike scenarios allow for bias to significantly influence that risk factor. If DND evaluators accept Lockheed Martin’s claims that the F-35’s systems will perform perfectly, then it will receive a “low risk” factor and earn full points. If DND evaluators decide that the Gripen’s systems will fail miserably, then they can assign the “very high risk” factor and deduct sixty percent of Saab’s points. This presents a worrisome opportunity for principal-agent mischief and should demand checks and balances like those under the New Fighter Aircraft (NFA) program that selected the affordable CF-18 over the considerably more expensive F-15 that RCAF leadership preferred at the time.

The Scenario 5 strike missions include close air support (CAS), coordinating a naval missile strike on an S-400 system, and engaging moving targets while minimizing collateral damage. All are reasonable air-to-ground missions that would have to be flown during a coalition bombing campaign. That said, the tasks involving the S-400 are biased to benefit the F-35. These types of missions are far beyond the capabilities of the CF-18 and have historically been left to the Americans. 

History has shown that affordable light fighters can make valuable contributions to coalition campaigns. By flying the US Navy defensive counter air mission on day 1 of the First Gulf War, Canada’s CF-18s freed up more advanced US Navy assets to fly missions over Iraq and earned Canadian pilots praise from US Navy controllers. Swedish Gripen-C jets flew 570 armed recon missions over Libya, earning Swedish officers a guest seat at Five Eyes intelligence meetings and praise from the NATO commander, Canadian Lt-General Bouchard: “The Gripens have a strategic importance for the operation. They have a spectacular capability.” French Mirage 2000 light fighters successfully flew numerous missions over Libya, destroyed many Libyan tanks, and bombed Gaddafi’s convoy.

Scenario 6 demands capabilities so far beyond what the RCAF has ever possessed that even the F-35 may be hard pressed to deliver. In a major coalition conflict, it is likely that none of these strike missions would be performed as written in the RFP. The Americans would go in first using the full breadth of their arsenal including stealth drones, an overwhelming naval cruise missile strike, and the future B-21 next-generation stealth bomber. The last stealth bombing mission ordered over Libya by President Obama involved a pair of B-2 stealth bombers, carrying 160 JDAM precision guided bombs. It would have required 80 F-35s to carry that many bombs in stealth mode.

Canadian taxpayers would be right to ask why the RCAF needs such an expensive first strike capability, especially given how it will inflate the costs of performing our NORAD and NATO air policing missions by over $10 billion. Scenario 6 should be discarded, and the associated points distributed to the two NORAD Arctic scenarios.

With COVID-19 related deficits placing a huge financial burden on future taxpayers, there will be significant pressure to keep military spending to a minimum.. Canadian Gripen-E jets would be made in Canada, with full technology transfer, and full industrial offsets. The Gripen is the only jet in the competition that costs less per flight hour than Canada currently spends on the CF-18. 

When Pierre Trudeau purchased the CF-18, it was the least expensive jet in the competition that fulfilled reasonable mission requirements. Respect for the taxpayer and respect for the military are not mutually exclusive concepts in Sweden. The Gripen-E is the right jet to replace the CF-18.

Alex McColl is the National Defence Columnist with the Western Standard and a Canadian military analyst

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Search for a Western Anthem: “Northwest Passage”

For me, the charm of this song is its ability to invoke this early history and make it relatable to today.

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It’s time to examine my personal favourite choice for an unofficial Western national anthem: “Northwest Passage” by Stan Rogers.

Featured on Rogers’ 1981 album of the same name, “Northwest Passage” is a stirring acapella folk song that is rich in emotion and history. Tragically, this was the last album Rogers released before his untimely death two years later. Although Rogers was only 33 at the time of his death, he left behind a powerful musical legacy. He received several posthumous awards, including a Juno for “Male Vocalist of the Year” in 1984, and his songs continue to inspire people of all ages to this day.

Many people already consider “Northwest Passage” to be the unofficial anthem of all Canada. However, as the name implies, this song is all about the West, and so we can make the case that it belongs here in the West.

Rogers is also known for his songs about Nova Scotia, the land of his own ancestry, but his admiration for the West really shines through in this masterful melody. Listeners will recognize in the lyrics references to our natural landscape such as the Fraser River and the “sea of flowers” of the prairies. And those familiar with our history will recognize the names of several famous explorers of the West: David Thompson, Alexander Mackenzie, Henry Kelsey (“brave Kelso”), and John Franklin.

As we all hopefully learned in grade school, the “Northwest Passage” was the dream of many early European explorers in North America. They had expected to find navigable waters which would allow for quicker passage from Europe to Asia. Since the 1500s, Europeans had sailed all the way around the southern tip of Africa in order to reach the Far East, which was an impressive feat but it was also costly and time consuming. Of course, the northern seas were encased in ice much of the year, so the Northwest Passage ended up being impossible to navigate in those early days. Many brave explorers died in the process of learning this terrible lesson.

The Bellot Strait, Nunavut, part of the Northwest Passage (Source: Wiki Commons, Ansgar Walk)

For me, the charm of this song is its ability to invoke this early history and make it relatable to today. Consider the following passages:

“Three centuries thereafter, I take passage overland
In the footsteps of brave Kelso, where his sea of flowers began
Watching cities rise before me, then behind me sink again
This tardiest explorer, driving hard across the plain.

And through the night, behind the wheel, the mileage clicking west
I think upon Mackenzie, David Thompson and the rest
Who cracked the mountain ramparts and did show a path for me
To race the roaring Fraser to the sea.”

In these lines, Rogers draws a straight line from the early explorers to the modern Westerner. We are all explorers, arriving 300 years too late but still explorers just the same. We are all Mackenzie and Thompson who “did show a path for me.” We are all walking “in the footsteps of brave Kelso.” Facing the challenges of the West in our own day, we share in their tragedies, and we share in their glory.

Henry Kelsey sees the Buffalo on the Western Plains, illustration by C.W. Jefferys (Source: Wiki Commons)

There is one line in Rogers’ song that I think we will have to change if this is to become an unofficial Western anthem. Since Rogers was an easterner, he describes going “back home” after his time in the West: “To seek a Northwest Passage at the call of many men / To find there but the road back home again.” For Rogers, the West was a land of adventure, a place to go after leaving his “settled life” behind, but it would ultimately never be his home.

But for us in the West, the song takes on new meaning because we are already home. We cross the sea of flowers and find the prairies with outstretched arms. We race the roaring Fraser and find a finish line at the sea. We crack the mountain ramparts only to build them up again for our own fortification. For us, the West is not just a tragic stepping stone to a comfortable life back east – it is our final destination and our future. We cannot fault Rogers for feeling otherwise, but we can build upon his words to suit our own needs.

Time for the final analysis: how does this song rate as an anthem? First, does it inspire us? Yes, by invoking the great explorers of our past, we are encouraged to face our own challenges with equal bravery and perseverance. Second, does it speak to our unique culture, heritage, and experiences? Yes, it makes direct appeals to both the triumph and tragedy of our history. It is also not specific to just one province, so it could appeal to people from all four Western provinces. Third, is it good for crowds to sing at public events? Mostly yes, although the lyrics may require some adaptation to suit our own needs.

Prairies near Brooks, Alberta (Source: Wiki Commons, Brett Snyder)

This song is admittedly my personal favourite for this competition so far. But what do you think? Is this song better left to the easterners, or should we claim it as our own unofficial Western anthem? Let me know what you think in the comments and on social media.

Do you have your own idea for the unofficial anthem of Alberta? It’s not too late. Leave a comment below, on social media, or send us an e-mail, and we will consider featuring your anthem idea in another column. E-mail your submissions for an Alberta, Buffalo, or Western anthem to anthemsearch@westernstandardonline.com

James Forbes is the Western Heritage Columnist for the Western Standard

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Search for a Western Anthem: “Alberta Bound”

This is a song that celebrates the West’s spirit of independence and a life-long dedication to the land we love

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We continue in our quest to find an unofficial anthem for Alberta, or more broadly Western Canada or Buffalo. Thanks to your suggestions on social media, we have a lot of great options to explore.

Previously we examined the song “All Hell for a Basement,” aka “Heaven in Alberta,” by Big Sugar. That song captured the hope for a better life, but also the tragedy of economic despair, in a manner that is relatable to many Albertans. You can read our full analysis of that song here.

And now for something completely different. “Alberta Bound” by Paul Brandt was perhaps the most requested country song on our list. Not to be confused with the Gordon Lightfoot song of the same name from 1972, Brandt’s song was released in 2004. With twanging guitars and cowboy vocal inflections, Brandt’s tribute to Alberta is well known and loved throughout the province. There’s no doubt that it’s a feel-good hit and a crowd-pleaser at home-town concerts. But the question remains: is it anthem material?

In terms of lyrics, there is a lot in here that would make other anthems jealous. Right away in the chorus we get that familiar description of Alberta as heaven (we saw that in the previous song as well), “this piece of heaven that I found,” followed by descriptions of the natural landscape: “Rocky Mountains and black fertile ground / Everything I need beneath that big blue sky.”

Next, the chorus describes the lifelong commitment of the singer to the land he loves, which is really the point of the song:

“It doesn’t matter where I go
This place will always be my home
I have been Alberta bound for all my life
And I’ll be Alberta bound until I die”

Most readers will know exactly the feeling he is talking about. You have all felt the draw of the West. The land you love takes on its own gravitational pull, drawing you back here time and time again. Even when you are away, you feel like a piece of you is somewhere back West. If you have ever had to be away for long periods of time, or maybe you moved away at some point, you may have felt like you were always on your way back home. And you know somewhere deep inside that you will continue to feel this draw of the West for the rest of your life. It’s such a simple lyric, “I have been Alberta bound for all my life,” but it resonates because we all know exactly what that feels like. If you are a Westerner, you have likely experienced that connection. The West will always be part of you.

But Brandt takes it ones step further. The commitment is all the more rich because it is deeper than an individual choice. He did not choose the West, but rather the West chose him. Consider this stanza:

“It’s a pride that’s been passed down to me
Deep as coal mines, wide as farmer’s fields
I’ve got independence in my veins”

This stanza alone captures so much of what an anthem needs to be. It reminds the participants of their profound connection to something larger than themselves, and reinforces the magnitude and significance of that relationship. In this case, it is an intergenerational connection that is as intimate as the blood in one’s veins. Beyond individual choice, this commitment has been given to him by his parents, and in turn he will pass it on to his children. Come to think of it, isn’t that really what an anthem is all about? Celebrating and reinforcing that connection between the individual and their national community.

Now, let’s consider the music video itself for a moment. Sure, at times the video looks a bit like a truck commercial with the amount of screen time we get of Brandt driving a pickup along a series of Alberta highways. But eventually it starts to grow on you. The video features an array of beautiful local scenery, from the majestic Rockies to the classically picturesque small Western towns. Anyone who has spent some time in southern Alberta in particular will recognize some familiar sights from the Crowsnest Pass. And the close-up shots of ordinary Albertans waving or nodding is actually a nice touch. After all, at the end of the day, Alberta is more than a geographic unit on the map – it is the people who make it what it is.

The Crowsnest Pass near Coleman, Alberta (Source: WikiCommons, Georgialh)

So let’s see if this song checks the boxes of our three main criteria. First, does it inspire us? Yes, this song is unabashedly proud of Alberta and our people, and this pride is infectious. Second, does it speak to our unique culture, heritage, and experiences? Yes, if we are just speaking of Alberta and not the wider West. The lyrics are made for us, and they are accessible enough that children and seniors and everyone in between can appreciate the simple positive message, that we should be proud to be Albertans. Third, is it good for crowds to sing at public events? Yes, just ask any Paul Brandt fan what the audience reaction is when this song comes on at a live concert.

Some may hesitate due to the fact that the song is less than two decades old. Surely songs need more time to become a classic, let alone an anthem? But perhaps not. Maybe it is too specific to Alberta, when ideally we would find an anthem that appeals to people of all four Western provinces?

Let me know what you think in the comments and on social media.

My summary: on paper, this checks all the boxes. This is a song that celebrates the West’s spirit of independence and a life-long dedication to the land we love. In my opinion, it easily makes the list of top 10 contenders for our unofficial anthem.

Do you have your own idea for the unofficial anthem of Alberta? It’s not too late. Leave a comment below, on social media, or send us an e-mail, and we will consider featuring your anthem idea in another column. E-mail your submissions for an Alberta, Buffalo, or Western anthem to anthemsearch@westernstandardonline.com

James Forbes is the Western Heritage Columnist for the Western Standard

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