Painful Truth: Does Canada need a new fighter jet?

Canada is in the market for a new fighter jet, but we’ve been kicking the tires for quite a while now. 

You might remember back in 2012, when the government was all hot and bothered over the F-35, the so-called “fifth generation” fighter that the U.S. has been pushing on all its allies for the past decade or so. It’s a stealth aircraft! It can take off from carriers! It can take off vertically! It can bomb your enemies in the morning and dogfight with them in the afternoon! 

I’m surprised the F-35 isn’t advertising between Saturday morning cartoons, with tow-headed kids playing with models of them, demonstrating their Light Up Action and Realistic Missile-Launching Sound!

The government backed away from the F-35 as the price climbed toward the stratosphere, while at the same time ever-more disturbing reports kept coming out about the plane’s suspected mechanical issues.

So now we don’t know exactly what Canada’s next-generation fighter will be. Maybe it will be a version of the F-35, if the engineers can work out the bugs. Maybe it’ll be a competing similar-but-much-cheaper plane.

Or maybe, if everyone shuffles their feet long enough, we won’t get a fighter aircraft. Because, really, Canada doesn’t need fighter jets.

Oh, a few people just got red-faced and prepared to throw the paper across the room! Not too many, but in some circles, suggesting Canada doesn’t need fighter jets is as foolish as suggesting that the Avro Arrow wasn’t really that worthwhile, either. 

I should probably stop digging myself deeper and get to the point.

The last time a Canadian pilot got into a dogfight was during the Korean war. Just about the last time anyone got into a dogfight worthy of the name was during the Gulf War, and those fights tended to be very, very brief. Remember how Iraq had the fourth largest air force in the world? After two days they had the largest collection of rapidly disassembled aircraft parts in the world.

Canada last upgraded its fighter aircraft decades ago. There is no question that we need something.

But what do we need? Who are we going to fight with our new hypothetical jets?

The obvious answers that every armchair military expert loves are Russia and China.

Those both seem fairly unlikely. China is busy with their plan in which they try to sell everything ever made to every other country. You don’t go to war with your customers, and we’re all customers. 

Russia has military might, it’s more aggressive, and it’s more desperate. But their recent MO has been snatching up bits of land by sending in goon squads to back up local thugs. If we’re attacked by Russia, it will take the form of a bunch of guys in olive drab wandering into northern Alberta and attempting to annex the West Edmonton Mall for the Republic of Athabaska. 

What do we need? I have no idea. Drones are really cheap and getting better all the time, and when they crash, there’s no funeral. Maybe we just need durable long-range bombers, since we mostly seem to be bombing people in the Middle East these days. 

What I do know is that war is changing, technology is changing, and that every military technology ever invented was used right up to the point where it was utterly worthless. 

That’s why we saw cavalry officers with swords charge machine guns in World War I. 

We need to think about whether fighter jets are modern day military horses.

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