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WS EXCLUSIVE: Defence bureaucrats are inflating the fighter replacement program requirements, and it could cost taxpayers billions.

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.

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

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

This is questioned 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 technical requirements in the request for proposal (RFP) are littered with odd requirements that raise serious questions of bias. For example, a small number of points are available in the technical criteria section for jets equipped “with an arrestor hook or drag chute or both.” The F-35 has – and desperately needs – both to operate safely at Canada’s 6000 ft. Arctic Forward Operating Location runways. The Saab Gripen, on the other hand, was designed for Swedish Arctic bases with 3000 ft. of runway and uses its canards as integrated air brakes. If the Gripen doesn’t get full points on this requirement, then that should be a red flag of pro F-35 evaluator bias.

The Saab Gripen is a high-speed delta-wing fighter with canards – hence the “Euro-Canard” nickname – and in many ways resembles the high-flying, high-speed Avro Arrow interceptor. This design is optimized for speed and high altitude, both critical for winning in air-to-air combat and beneficial for minimizing drag on external stores during cruise. The Euro-Canards have service ceilings over 50,000 ft and are known to regularly fly over 40,000 ft., whereas Lockheed Martin recommends a cruise altitude of 30,000 ft for optimal F-35 performance. 

Saab Gripen-E fighter (source: Saab)

While ferry legs in the RFP are allowed at the bidder’s optimal altitude, multiple scenarios mandate flying at, or below, 30,000 ft. 

A CF-18 pilot I spoke with off-the-record estimates that the Gripen would earn more points if allowed to fly at over 40,000 ft. This is especially true of the NORAD Dash profile that mandates ten minutes at Mach 1.1 at 30,000 ft., with additional points for being able to sustain Mach 1.35 or greater. This requirement puts all three of the Euro-Canards at a disadvantage for no legitimate reason. I stress this point as the other two Euro-Canards – the Rafale and Eurofighter – have both pulled out of the contest citing pro American and pro F-35 bias.

Scenario Two in the RFP involves a World War III, Cold War style Russian attack with air-launched conventional or nuclear cruise missiles. Intercepting Russian cruise missiles during a World War III scenario is a legitimate mission for our next fighter and for Canada continuing to pull our weight in the NORAD partnership. That said, there are some eyebrow raising requirements to this mission. The fighters need to take-off from Inuvik in their NORAD Transit configuration. This is no issue for the tankless F-35 but places an odd penalty for the other jets. This is especially true for the Gripen, as it was designed so that Swedish ground crews could quickly swap armaments in Swedish arctic conditions exactly like those in the Canadian arctic, and against the same potential threats. 

In Scenario Three, two Royal Canadian Air force (RCAF) future fighters must engage sixteen cruise missiles with full points for destroying at least fifteen of them. American F-22s from Alaska are available to assist with the remaining missiles provided the future fighter relays targeting information to the F-22s. Two F-35s will eventually be able to fly with eight missiles each in a relatively clean configuration (two Sidewinders are carried on the wings, six internal AIM-120s are on the roadmap but only four are supported today). I wouldn’t be surprised if the F-35 earns full points on this scenario while the Gripen is forced to call in the F-22s after killing only eight of the sixteen cruise missiles.  

Dropping empty fuel tanks for more speed is prohibited, and thus an advantage for the F-35. Engaging the slow un-boosted turbofan-powered Russian cruise missiles with guns is also prohibited. This is a strange political trade-off: allowing Canadian cities and industry to be destroyed in exchange for protecting a hypothetical polar bear from being crushed by an empty drop tank. 

It’s worth noting that the Gripen’s operating cost advantage over the F-35 is so substantial that sending three Gripens on this mission would cost the Canadian taxpayer less than sending two F-35s. With the ability to swap the centre fuel tank for three additional missiles in Inuvik, three Gripen-Es could carry two external tanks, two sidewinders and five AIM-120s each; enough to take on up to twenty-one Russian cruise missiles. 

U.S. Air Force F-35A Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters from the 58th Fighter Squadron, 33rd Fighter Wing, Eglin AFB, Fla. perform an aerial refueling mission with a KC-135 Stratotanker from the 336th Air Refueling Squadron from March ARB, Calif., May 14, 2013 off the coast of Northwest Florida. The 33rd Fighter Wing is a joint graduate flying and maintenance training wing that trains Air Force, Marine, Navy and international partner operators and maintainers of the F-35 Lightning II. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Donald R. Allen/Released)

The evaluation and weights summary document also raised more questions than it answered. Twenty per cent of the points are available for lifecycle costs but split evenly between “Acquisition” and “Sustainment” (the WS did not receive the appendices that contained more details). 

The Gripen should get the maximum score as it is by far the least expensive jet in the competition. The F-35’s relatively low future flyaway cost could be used to give it a higher score than its astronomical sustainment costs would allow if the 20 per cent was awarded exclusively based on total cost of ownership.

Twenty per cent is awarded for industrial offsets: 14 per cent for acquisition, and 6 per cent for sustainment. I reached out to an off-the-record source who said that the F-35 would receive only half the potential points for non-guaranteed offset work. My source argued that this was still unfair because Lockheed could claim 100 per cent offsets and earn half points while having no intention of ever delivering on those offsets. 

This is no baseless concern. In 2017, the head of Italy’s aerospace and defence industry association said that the Americans “had not honoured promises” and lamented that Italy had only received 44 per cent of the promised work on European F-35s.

The NORAD transit scenario also demonstrates some F-35 bias. As pointed out earlier this summer in a Macdonald Laurier Institute paper, the transit profile in the RFP is just outside the range of the block 2 Boeing Super Hornet. Only President Trump’s decision to fund the block 3 Super Hornet conformal fuel tank upgrade has saved the Super Hornet from being disqualified. 

The CF-18s can’t meet this transit requirement and need mid-air refueling to divert to Alaska, so this requirement is an upgraded capability being demanded. One can argue that being able to divert without tanker fuel is a reasonable enhanced requirement, but Boeing no doubt would have argued that the 170 kilometers closer, newly paved runway at Dawson City, Yukon would be the obvious choice for a diversion. Does a flight profile just within the range of the F-35, and just outside the range of the Super Hornet, sound like a fair requirement when there’s another Canadian runway within the range of the Super Hornet?

The long distances in the Arctic should highlight the need for Canada to pave more runways to cover our expanding Air Defence Identification Zone. There are numerous gravel runways that serve Inuit communities in the Arctic that, once paved, could become useful Forward Operating Locations. With gravel rated 737s being retired from service and there being no new affordable gravel rated cargo jets to replace them, paving those runways should be a priority for the Canadian Government as a form of reconciliation with Inuit communities regardless of the military benefits. It’s a shame that justifying the need for an expensive jet requires the military to downplay the benefits of paving more runways.

What fighter the RCAF ultimately ends up with isn’t altogether clear, but the bureaucrats clearly have their hearts set of the F-35, to the potential great cost of Canada’s air defence network, and taxpayers. 

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

Alex McColl is the National Defence Columnist for the Western Standard. He has a Masters 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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Search for a Western Anthem: “All Hell for a Basement” (Heaven in Alberta)

You must hear this song to understand why it speaks to so many Albertans on a visceral level

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The Western Standard put out a call for our readers to help us pick the unofficial anthem for Alberta (or more broadly, Buffalo or Western Canada). We asked you to submit songs that would inspire us during hard times, would speak to our distinct Western culture, and would be good for crowds to sing together. You didn’t disappoint.

We received many great anthem ideas: some familiar classics, some newer hits, and many excellent rarer songs which I had never heard before. Many are strong contenders, and some a little off mark. I have been sifting through reader e-mails and social media comments, and narrowed it down to the best handful of songs. We will not be able to cover all of them, but over the next few weeks we will be selecting some of the best suggestions and explaining why we think they would make a great pick to become the unofficial anthem of the West.

As expected, one of the top submissions was “All Hell for a Basement”, also known as “Heaven in Alberta”, by Big Sugar. Originally released in 2001, the song features thrashing drums and electric guitars. For some listeners, this original version evokes the feeling of driving an F350 to a rig site, across the empty prairie landscape before the sun comes up.

In my opinion, the unofficial acoustic version does the most compelling job of capturing the song’s emotions. Like all anthems, you can’t just read the lyrics. You must hear this song to understand why it speaks to so many of our people on a visceral level.

The title “All Hell for a Basement” sounds odd at first. The phrase actually comes from a quote by Rudyard Kipling, the novelist and poet famous for The Jungle Book. Upon visiting Medicine Hat, Alberta in 1907, Kipling was impressed by the region’s massive quantities of underground natural gas. He remarked, “This part of the country seems to have all hell for a basement, and the only trap door appears to be in Medicine Hat.”

Gordie Johnson wrote this song when he was the front man for the Big Sugar. Johnson was born in Winnipeg and grew up in Ontario before his family moved back west to Medicine Hat.

The song is simultaneously tragic and hopeful. The opening line, “I am a working man, but I ain’t worked for a while,” captures a reality that requires no explanation for our readers. The writer feels discarded “Like some old tin can, from the bottom of the pile.” As the song understands, unemployment is not only a crisis of material means, but also of identity and meaning. So many of us derive much of our sense of self-worth from our work and from the ability to feed our families.

But there is hope in this song as well. The lyrics to the chorus are as follows:

“I have lost my way / But I hear tell / Of Heaven in Alberta / Where they’ve got all hell for a basement.”

There’s no question why this song was requested by so many of our readers. Alberta used to be a beacon of hope that attracted hard-working people from struggling economies far and wide. Many working men who had lost their way came here to find it. Of course, this song and its underlying drive hails from a time when Alberta’s economic engine was not under direct assault by Ottawa.

So yes, let’s acknowledge the tragedy that this song captures for us in the West: unemployment, loss of purpose, and the feeling of being discarded “like some old tin can” by those in power who no longer have a use for us. But let’s also take this anthem as a reminder of the hope that we in Alberta once provided for a hopeless people. Let’s reawaken that sense of hope within ourselves, and begin to take the necessary steps to get on the right path toward prosperity. Start with yourself as an individual by reclaiming who you truly are: not “some old tin can” to be discarded by the Laurentians, but a “working man” whose skills and work ethic are still valued by us here in the West.

So how does this song stack up as an anthem, based on the three main criteria we established? First, does it inspire us? Yes, in its call to face the tragedy of unemployment and reclaim one’s self-worth as a working man, this checks out. Second, does it speak to our unique culture, heritage, and experiences? Yes, at least to some aspects of our experiences (oil & gas: check). Third, is it good for crowds to sing at public events? That’s where I think this song may fall short of anthem material. The lyrics are simply not designed for that. With lyrics like “My words are like a rope / that’s wrapped around my throat,” people might see only the tragic side, and not the redemption part of the story.

Based on the reader responses, this song will no doubt make the top 10 list. Can I see it being the song that Westerners sing with their hands over their hearts at a hockey game? Personally, I don’t think so. The lyrics are applicable to the working man, but what about school children in their weekly assembly? An anthem needs to have wider appeal, in my opinion. But what do you think?

My verdict: Great song, but I’m not sure if we have found our anthem yet.

The search continues!

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. Email 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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Working from home with dysfunctional ‘co-workers’

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Need to put a smile on your face amid nothing but bad, worse, and awful news? Read on.

A North Carolina mom started working from home and decided to ask Twitter for ‘co-worker’ stories.

For the accountants and bookkeepers:

Dieticians:

For the upwardly mobile:

For the artistically inclined:

Sanitation:

Lunchroom dramas:

When to call human resources:

And some things stay the same..

Deirdre Mitchell-MacLean is a Senior Reporter with Western Standard
dmaclean@westernstandardonline.com
Twitter @Mitchell_AB

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Two Alberta businesses – different challenges in a pandemic

“Whatever has happened elsewhere is what we’re barreling towards,” Jacobs said.

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Bryan Orr, a drilling engineer in Alberta, is employed with NBC Technologies, who subcontracts with larger operators such as Tamarack Valley.

“I love drilling but it’s about to fall off a cliff,” Orr said. “The oil price coupled with challenges relating to chemicals and materials from China…”

During the drilling process, water, or a mud mixture, is pumped down through the bit. Barite, one of the chemicals used in that process, as well as chemicals used to make cement, come from China. Orr says the supply is getting low.

There’s also other materials such as pipe which is also becoming more scarce. Piping used both in the drilling process so the rock doesn’t collapse itself and pipe that is used to transport product. Orr said some of the storage companies are setting to close and that’s going to cause a problem.

“Reasons for Canada running a fraction of the rigs of the US aren’t geologically driven but based on pipeline access and other regulatory issues that are solvable by a supportive federal government.”

But Orr says there are further difficulties with the changes enforced by the COVID-19 pandemic, especially when it comes to working remotely.

“Unique challenges with the pandemic lie with decision-makers – getting rapid approvals can be difficult.”

In a business that has been about face-to-face meeting and relationship building, the idea that all work can continue via email isn’t as welcome to those used to running the show in person.

Even with those challenges, however, Orr said he is still optimistic.

One positive of the rapid changes in oil that have been happening is that these issues also help drive efficiencies. Orr says the cost of drilling wells has gone down substantially in Canada – comparatively – to the U.S.

“We’ve been lucky (at Tamarack and NBC Technologies) because we had a huge success last year that’s been driving a lot of production this year. Even though it’s a reduction in drilling, we were able to prove that we could reduce our footprint with three-mile Tamarack wells that allow us greater access.”

The new drilling process is nominated for a Collaborative Trendsetter award at the Global Petroleum Show.

Orr admits the majority of his work, while reliant on a customer-base, isn’t reliant on in-person transactions. Others – who are reliant on the physical presence of consumerism – are facing additional challenges that aren’t just based on the point of sale.

Jonathan Jacobs owns a Fort Lanes, a bowling and virtual golf business in Fort Saskatchewan. He purchased the business after he was laid off from his job in the oil patch in 2015. Jacobs could see that times were changing for his trade and he and his wife decided to invest in a local business.

Jacobs says the family wasn’t likely to get rich but they made a living. He had enough business to hire some employees and, all in all, had a successful small business.

“We had a ‘soft’ year (in 2019),” he said. “We looked at 2020 and said ‘it’ll be fine as long as nothing goes wrong’.”

The small entertainment business Jacobs runs still has employees but a lot less customers.

“I underestimated (the impact of COVID-19) until right now,” he said. “As of last Wednesday, there was no reason to believe this was coming.”

“This” is mass cancellation of classes and people being told to self-isolate. What bothers him most is the apparent mixed messaging.

“The government response has been rapid fire and all over the map. It’s hard to get your feet under you,” he said. “And that’s just week one – what happens in week two?”

Jacobs said people are being told to stay home but the government is also saying businesses can remain open. He said it doesn’t help him to stay open if there’s no customers. It’s something he’s also hearing that from other business owners in the area.

“We (local business owners) talk every day right now,” he said. “I can’t work from home – I can’t deliver bowling pins to your house to play there.”

His alley hosts leagues for all ages and special Olympics training. Jacobs said they cut the league play but his alley won’t hold 250 people so he stayed open. Now the government is saying no more than 50 people should gather but they’re also saying people need to adapt to a ‘new normal’ that is based on social distancing.

Special Olympics is on hold until April 13, Jacobs said. but public health messaging is saying things will be on hold for “months”.

Jacobs said he’s getting a better idea of what to expect from watching what’s going on in other provinces – like Quebec – who just asked bars and restaurants to close.

“Whatever happened there is what we’re barreling towards,” he said.

He said he wished that business owners had better communication from the leadership in terms of what to expect. Jacobs said he realizes this is unprecedented but feels like a more coordinated effort to communicate, especially when so many businesses are reliant on customers being physically present, would have been beneficial for him – especially when it comes to planning.

“There were 29 cases when we implemented the social distancing. What are the parameters for ending this?” He asked. “Not knowing is the worst. I have employees. Is it going to continue until May? June? At least then I’d know it’s not April.”

“They have issues managers making a quarter of a million dollars per year – why don’t they manage some real issues?”

Jacobs said he’s hoping the communication will get better, particularly in terms of how “this ends”.

“What will they be looking for to ease the restrictions?” He asked. “How will we know if we should hold on or close up?”

Deirdre Mitchell-MacLean is a Senior Reporter with Western Standard
dmaclean@westernstandardonline.com
Twitter @Mitchell_AB

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