U.S. TO WITHHOLD JOINT STRIKE FIGHTER CODES FROM CANADA AND ALLIES BY DAVID PUGLIESE OTTAWA CITIZEN

 

U.S. denies Canada info needed to maintain jets

 

 

By David Pugliese

 

The Ottawa Citizen

 

November 25, 2009

 

 

 

Although Canada is spending more than $500 million on the development of an American-built stealth fighter aircraft and is considering earmarking billions of dollars more to purchase the planes, the U.S. won’t be sharing key software needed to maintain the jets.

 

The Canadian military is currently looking at whether to buy the Joint Strike Fighter, a deal that could cost between $3.8 billion and $10 billion, depending on which estimate the Defence Department uses.

 

But Pentagon officials say no country involved in the development of the jets will have access to the software codes that are key to the high-tech plane’s electronic systems. Without that information, Canada won’t able to maintain or upgrade the aircraft in the future without U.S. help.

 

The codes control most systems on the plane, ranging from weapons to radar and flight performance.

 

A fight over the availability of the information has been brewing between the U.S. and Britain, which has threatened to cancel its order for 138 of the planes unless it can maintain and upgrade the aircraft on its own.

 

However, Canada’s Defence Department says it is not concerned. Defence spokeswoman Lianne LeBel said Tuesday that Canada knew it would not be provided with the codes for the aircraft, also known as the JSF, and that did not have any impact on its involvement in the fighter program.

 

“Should DND proceed with the JSF program, DND would be provided with all the information necessary to operate and sustain the aircraft over the life of the program,” she said.

 

Jon Schreiber, who heads the Joint Strike Fighter program’s international affairs office in Washington, said no U.S. partner would be provided with the codes. “That includes everybody,” he told Reuters news agency, referring to the countries who have invested in the plane.

 

He acknowledged that the partner nations involved in developing the aircraft, Britain, Italy, the Netherlands, Turkey, Canada, Australia, Denmark and Norway, were not happy with the decision.

 

Instead, the Pentagon will establish a facility in the U.S. that will develop software upgrades and handle integrating those for the countries which purchase the JSF.

 

“What has happened is really quite unusual because we’re talking about some of America’s very close allies,” said Allen Sens, a defence analyst at the University of British Columbia. “You would have thought they could build in some maintenance codes that could be accessible to their allies.”

 

He said the decision could be linked both to concerns from the Pentagon about sharing sensitive information as well as pressure from Congress to protect U.S. aerospace jobs.

 

Canada’s current fleet of CF-18 fighter aircraft are maintained in Canada and were recently upgraded in a program worth $1.8 billion. It isn’t unusual in defence contracts for various organizations to share key information and transfer technology as long as proper security procedures are put in place.

 

The British government has been pushing for access to the codes for years. It warned the U.S. in 2006 that it might leave the JSF program if the software codes were withheld. At the time, then prime minister Tony Blair said his country wanted the ability to upgrade and maintain the JSF to retain its “operational sovereignty” over the planes.

 

Canada has already invested $150 million U.S. in the JSF program. The government has also decided to take part in the next phase of the aircraft’s development, agreeing to invest around $500 million U.S. over the next 45 years. According to government officials, though, that investment does not automatically mean Canada will buy the plane.

 

The Canadian Forces has established a project office to look at what it is calling its next generation fighter, a plane that would replace the CF-18s starting around 2017.

 

The cost of replacing the CF-18s is not clear at this point. The Defence Department estimated the full cost of replacing that fleet would be around $10 billion, but that was based on the purchase of 80 planes as well as long-term support for those jets. Another estimate produced by DND noted that the department was looking at spending $3.8 billion on a Joint Strike Fighter purchase, but that was just for the aircraft alone.

 

Some inside the Defence Department have advocated purchasing the Joint Strike Fighter outright without any competition. That has set off lobbying by other aerospace firms, which say that a competition would be best for taxpayers.

 

Officials with Lockheed Martin, the U.S. firm building the JSF, said they expect Canada to make its decision in regard to the aircraft by next summer.

 

Lockheed Martin vice president Tom Burbage has said the program has strong industrial benefits for Canadian firms. Defence Department officials have pointed out that Canadian companies have received around 150 Joint Strike Fighter contracts so far. Government officials have noted that Canadian industrial opportunities are expected to total more than $5 billion U.S. over the life of the program, but others have suggested that work will only come to domestic firms if Canada buys the JSF.

 

For more Canadian Forces and Defence Department news or articles by David Pugliese of the Ottawa Citizen go to David Pugliese’s Defence Watch at:

 

http://communities.canada.com/ottawacitizen/blogs/defencewatch/

 

 

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