This is the third in a series of briefings by Project Ploughshares on Canada’s proposed purchase of the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) aircraft, also known as the F-35. These briefings are intended to add to the continuing public debate on this, the largest military procurement purchase in Canadian history.
The decision by the current Conservative minority government to purchase “next generation” or “fifth-generation” fighter aircraft to replace aging CF-18 jet fighters is directly tied to the timing and contents of the “Canada First Defence Strategy” (DND 2008c), a 21-page document publicly released on June 19, 2008.
The significance of Canada First for this government cannot be understated. Led by a Prime Minister who is admittedly adverse to the “vision thing,” that is, extensive public discussion and development of policy, the Harper government has produced only this one formal policy paper on defence and foreign policy in the five years it has been in power.
As it stands, Canada First is actually quite short on policy analysis. It is better understood as a military shopping list with some anecdotal description of why budget increases are necessary for Canadian Forces (CF) personnel and equipment purchases. It then projects forward 20 years so that the Defence budget will expand “from approximately $18 billion in 2008-09, to over $30 billion by 2027-28” (p. 12).
Canada First also represents a watershed moment in the publicly opaque decision-making process to purchase 65 Joint Strike Fighter aircraft (F-35s) from USA defence contractor Lockheed Martin, announced on July 16, 2010.