Canada wants probe, drag chute on F-35A

The Canadian military does not have the ability to conduct aerial refuelling of the F-35 fighter jet it wants to purchase and is now looking at ways to get around the problem, the Ottawa Citizen has learned.

Options range from paying for modifications to the stealth jets to purchasing a new fleet of tanker aircraft that can gas up the high-tech fighters in mid-air. That option could cost several hundred million dollars, depending on how many new tankers are needed, according to sources.

In addition, because the F-35 would not be able to safely land on runways in Canada’s north as those are too short for the fighter, the Defense Department is also looking at having manufacturer Lockheed Martin install a “drag” chute on the plane.

That parachute would deploy when the aircraft lands, slowing the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter down. But some pilots have said that high winds affecting such runways could make using a drag chute tricky or even dangerous. The purchase of the 65 F-35 stealth fighters is a centerpiece for the Conservative government’s defense policy and a purchase that Prime Minister Stephen Harper says is needed to modernize the military.

The government has suggested the jets are required to defend Canada’s Arctic from Russian warplanes as well as to take part in overseas missions. But the acquisition, estimated to cost between $16 billion and $21 billion, has come under fire from a variety of critics as being unnecessary and too costly.

The government spent $126 million on modifying some of its current fleet of Polaris transport aircraft to handle mid-air refuelling of CF-18 fighters. The first of the two modified planes was declared operational in 2009. But the system on the Polaris cannot refuel the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter model the Harper government has said it will purchase.

The Defence Department stated in an email that it “is studying options for F-35 air-to-air refueling capability.”
In an interview last summer, Tom Burbage, a senior Lockheed Martin official said he didn’t think the refueling issue would be a problem. He said the F-35 aircraft design could handle different types of refueling systems, including those used by the Canadian Forces aerial tankers.

Canada wants to purchase the same type of F-35 being ordered by the U.S. air force. However, the F-35 being built for the U.S. navy carries the equipment needed to be refueled by tankers such as the ones operated by the Canadian Forces.

The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter deal is the largest single military procurement in Canada’s history but the development of the aircraft has run into problems and delays.

“Because the recently completed report includes information about F-35 flight testing through September of 2010, its information is dated, and the majority of the issues cited have since been resolved or are on a path to resolution,” he noted.

Military officers argue that the JSF is the only aircraft that can meet Canada’s future needs.

The Vancouver Sun

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