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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.

Features

These Yellowstone-Alberta memes capture the soul of Wild Rose Country

The Montana-based violent drama has found its way into the hearts of Albertans — it even mentioned the friendliness of the Calgary Stampede — with a new meme circulating on Facebook.

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The Paramount Network smash-hit Yellowstone is wildly the most popular show on cable and streaming on Amazon Prime.

Although the network blockbuster starring Kevin Costner drew more than 11 million viewers for its fourth season finale earlier this month, without streaming, it has gone virtually unnoticed by award shows until Wednesday — receiving its first major nomination for a Screen Actors Guild award.

The Montana-based violent drama has found its way into the hearts of Albertans — it even mentioned the friendliness of the Calgary Stampede — with a new meme circulating on Facebook.

The meme depicts show characters as a representation of towns and small cities throughout Alberta.

The character Beth Dutton played by Kelly Reilly is captioned with Alberta’s St. Paul and has the most comments of all the characters listed in the meme, likely due to her merciless, tougher-than-tough, bad-ass nature.

“She’s a Cockroach. A Superhero Without the Cape,” said Reilly reflecting on her character Beth in a recent article in Esquire.

Tanya Hollasch — calling herself a Beth look-a-like — commented on Ms. Dutton’s image with an attached picture of herself — bright purple shiner and all.

“I’ve been told I’m a Beth look-a-like from Bonnyville🙈 ….I’m just not bad-ass enough 🤣 just a boring story of a horse mishap😂”

Many of the main characters from the show are featured in the meme including Costner representing Nanton.

Hundreds of people have chimed in from picture to picture either agreeing wholeheartedly with each character’s related Alberta location or have inserted their own suggested location comparison.

Melanie Risdon is a reporter with the Western Standard
mrisdon@westernstandardonline.com

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MAKICHUK: Unholy alliance: America faces a formidable two-front crisis

That might be the diplomatic view, but two against one was never a fair fight.

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The year is 2065.

Russia and China have combined their space programs and now have a functioning, expansive joint lunar station.

Advanced Chinese shuttle landers are making regular visits to the base, which has pioneered major mining projects below the lunar surface with the use of robot devices.

The station generates its own food, water and oxygen, and the landers regularly deliver workers and supplies and return shipments of valuable minerals.

America, a once-great power in space could not keep up with the expanding space gap, nor the military gap, or even the technology gap and now trails the two nations that formed a strong alliance early into the new century.

Back on earth, China, with Russian help, invaded Taiwan and now controls the former democratic island, enforcing a strict Communist crackdown on the helpless populace. 

The US, a country racked by crumbling infrastructure, runaway poverty and deep political divisions and now dwarfed by the Sino-Russian alliance, did nothing — except to place more useless sanctions on Beijing.

This may sound like a dream, or perhaps even a nightmare, depending on what your perspective is.

Could it happen? Nobody knows, of course. But the way things are going an alliance of this nature appears to be growing with each day, week and month.

The more the US and its allies place pressure on China for its perceived sins, the more they push the Red Dragon into an unholy alliance with the Russian bear.

Beware of such a development, because it will change the world.

According to a report in the New York Times, the militaries of both countries have stepped up joint exercises and even operations, including in the air and for the first time in October, naval patrols in the Pacific. They have also pledged to explore space together.

Analysts say that an important factor in Russian-Chinese ties is the personal chemistry between Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping, both men in their late 60s who have consolidated control over their countries’ political systems, NYT reported. 

Xi has addressed Putin as his “old friend,” while the Russian president called his Chinese counterpart both his “dear friend” and “esteemed friend.”

There is still plenty of historical friction between Russia and China, onetime adversaries that share a land border stretching more than 4,200 km.

But on trade, security and geopolitics they are increasingly on the same page, forming a bloc trying to take on American influence as both countries’ confrontations with the US deepen, the NYT reported.

For Putin, a recent congenial video summit between the two comes at a high-stakes moment in his brinkmanship over Western influence in Ukraine.

The imposing Kremlin leader, facing threats of crushing Western sanctions if Russian forces attack Ukraine, heard Xi propose that Russian and China cooperate to “more effectively safeguard the security interests of both parties.”

Meanwhile, China has come under US and European criticism for human rights abuses in the Xinjiang region and its suppression of political freedoms in Hong Kong as well as its alarming military activity in the Indo-Pacific region.

Make no mistake, the mere thought that two of the strongest military powers in the world may join forces against the US and its allies will send shockwaves through the corridors of Western powers — for the basic fact, it is a two-front crisis that US President Joe Biden can’t win.

And while the two countries have not signed anything official and neither of the leaders can really be trusted further than you can toss a chihuahua, this can’t be ignored.

Yet, the US appears blind to the fact it is pushing China into a corner, with US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin rejecting so-called “red-lines” in Ukraine and Taiwan — tough talk, but it might just be another hollow gesture.

Words don’t stop tanks, fighter jets, missiles or amphibious landing craft.

Citing human rights concerns, the US, Canada and Australia have declared diplomatic protests over the upcoming 2022 Beijing Summer Games (athletes will still attend), while Putin was the first major leader to RSVP his attendance.

This week, the Biden administration added China’s top military medical research institute to an export blacklist in response to concerns about Beijing’s use of emerging technologies such as biometrics and brain-control weapons.

All that aside, Ukraine is not a member of NATO and does not receive Article 5 protections from the alliance, Defense One reported. But the country does receive regular rotations of US troops and sales of weapons to bolster its self-defense. 

Taiwan is recognized by the Taiwan Relations Act, under which the US provides weapons and training to Taiwan so it too can defend itself. But neither is guaranteed US military protection in case of an attack.

The US, meanwhile, plans to channel US$7.1 billion in defence spending to the Indo-Pacific region in the next financial year, the South China Morning Post reported.

It is turning its entire military might — the Navy, Marines, the Air Force and the Army — toward the Indo-Pacific theater. Even the CIA is following suit, with the creation of a new China mandate, abandoning its Bush-era war on terror.

Zhao Tong, a senior fellow at the Carnegie-Tsinghua Centre for Global Policy in Beijing, told the SCMP the funding indicated the US was determined to confront China head-on.

“Beijing is driven by its goals for national rejuvenation and Washington understands that it’s impossible for them to change China’s political mindset, which is counter to the one recognized by the Western world,” Zhao said.

The winds for a perfect storm are howling in both Eastern Europe and the Asia-Pacific just as the Biden administration is reeling from the effects of a chaotic withdrawal from a 20-year war in Afghanistan and a persistent pandemic that has exacerbated sharp political divides at home, Newsweek reported.

“This is a time when democracies are being challenged — some being challenged from within, others being challenged from without,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said during an Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe press conference. 

“And there is a contest between autocracies and democracies, and as President Biden has spoken to on numerous occasions, that is a fundamental contest of our time.”

That might be the diplomatic view, but two against one was never a fair fight.

Dave Makichuk is a Western Standard contributor
He has worked in the media for decades, including as an editor for the Calgary Herald and covering military issues in Asia. He is also the Calgary correspondent for ChinaFactor.news
makichukd@gmail.com

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MAKICHUK: Secret war: China, US in AI tech dogfight

“It is the future of combat.”

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A war is being waged — but nobody is getting killed or injured and nobody really knows much about it, except for the insiders.

It is without doubt that artificial intelligence, or AI, is the foundation of China’s People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA) mission to become a world-class military, capable of rivalling its main adversary, the United States.

It is the future of combat.

Unveiled in 2017, Beijing’s New Generation AI Development Plan established China’s goal to become “the world leader” in AI by 2030 — and this obviously extends to military affairs.

In a major development in this field, for the first time on record earlier this year, an artificial intelligence system reportedly beat one of the PLA’s top fighter pilots in a simulated dogfight, according to a report by research analyst Ryan Fedasiuk for Breaking Defense

Chinese state media outlet, The Global Times, hailed it as a watershed moment in the country’s military modernization. 

An aviation brigade affiliated with the PLA Central Theater Command Air Force held a training simulation in early summer in which Fang Guoyu, a group leader of the brigade, was shot down in a mock aerial battle against an AI aircraft in a simulator, the PLA Daily reported.

“The AI has shown adept flight control skills and errorless tactical decisions, making it a valuable opponent to hone our capabilities,” Du Jianfeng, commander of the brigade, was quoted as saying. 

But almost as significant was the fact that it came just months after the US military had achieved the same milestone.

In a 5 to 0 sweep, an “AI pilot” developed by Heron Systems beat one of the Air Force’s top F-16 fighter pilots in a simulated aerial dogfight contest held by The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) .

The three-day trials showed that AI systems can maneuver an aircraft in a simple, one-on-one combat scenario and shoot its forward guns in a classic World War Two-style dogfight.

For years, experts have written of China’s plan to wield AI for battlefield advantage but cited US advantages in hardware and workforce development as sources of US strength.

As tensions mount between the US and China, and some experts warn of an impending crisis over Taiwan — China claims the democratic island nation as its own under the “One China” policy — US policymakers and defense planners are faced with the challenge of taking steps to defend the United States’ edge.

This past week, H-6J strategic bombers armed with anti-ship missiles practiced “island bombing” as the PLA Navy (PLAN), projected its nascent power in the disputed South China Sea.

More broadly, China appears on the edge of joining the tiny group of states that possess a nuclear triad.

According to a Department of Defense report, Beijing has accelerated its nuclear expansion, which may enable the China to have up to “700 deliverable nuclear warheads by 2027 and likely intends to have at least 1,000 warheads by 2030.”

On top of that, China “is building hundreds of new ICBM silos, and is on the cusp of a large silo-based ICBM force expansion comparable to those undertaken by other major powers.”

China’s navy, the PLAN, is now larger than that of the United States Naval forces, by a large margin — and getting stronger and more powerful by the day.

Meanwhile, China’s efforts to build an “intelligentized” force was recently detailed in a new report for Georgetown University’s Center for Security and Emerging Technology (CSET), co-authored by Fedasiuk.

Many of the AI projects identified in the study are explicitly focused on degrading and countering systems at the heart of the US military’s Joint Warfighting Concept, using techniques like adaptive radar jamming and vulnerability fuzzing, Fedasiuk writes. 

Research papers from China’s defense universities even discuss using machine learning systems to counter specific US drone swarm projects like Locust and Gremlins.

What’s more, the PLA is backing up its ambitious AI development goals with significant investment. 

Despite the several-hundred-billion-dollar difference in the topline budgets of the US and Chinese militaries, countries are investing about the same amount in AI for military use — in the low billions of dollars each year, Fedasiuk says. 

Between April and December 2020, more than one in 20 public contracts awarded by the PLA’s main service branches were related to AI or “intelligent” equipment. 

In particular, the PLA is investing in AI capabilities meant to jam, blind, and hack the C4ISR systems (Command, Control, Communications, Computers Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance) that bind US assets together. 

PLA units and state-backed research institutions have also awarded contracts for “microwave reconnaissance jamming drones” and “electromagnetic weapon” payloads that can be attached to swarms of small unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and flown into enemy airspace, Fedasiuk says. 

China is clearly not alone in the relentless push for AI weaponization — US technology is also racing ahead and it’s a lead it does not want to relinquish.

This week, for example, US Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall said the service hopes to give the secretive new Northrop Grumman B-21 Raider stealth bomber a drone sidekick.

“The B-21 is a very expensive aircraft. It has a certain payload and range. We’d like to amplify that capability it has to penetrate, which is valuable,” Kendall said during a Defense One event.

The Air Force has floated the idea of a “Loyal Wingman”-style drone that would accompany fighter jets into combat and operate with some level of artificial intelligence. 

The service is developing an autonomy module under the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Skyborg program and has already integrated and flown that system with the uncrewed Kratos UTAP-22 Mako and General Atomics’ MQ-20 Avenger.

But despite the PLA’s significant progress in adopting AI-enabled systems, there are at least two clear vulnerabilities in its blueprint, Fedasiuk points out.

First, while Chinese military leaders plan to exploit weaknesses in US sensor and communication networks, it is not clear how they plan to build resilient, cloud-based networks of their own. 

While the US military is susceptible to information manipulation and data poisoning, the so-called “Achilles’ heel” of the US joint all-domain command and control strategy, in a potential conflict, the PLA itself would also likely struggle to ensure the integrity of data used to train its own AI systems — to say nothing of the inherent fragility of AI-based computer vision and object recognition systems. 

SecondChina’s “intelligentization” strategy is entirely predicated on access to AI chips designed by US companies and manufactured in Taiwan and South Korea. The supply of these high-end microelectronics, however, is far from guaranteed. 

Both the US and its allies have already adopted several measures to starve Chinese military companies of the chips required to train advanced machine learning models.

China’s technology giants have been pushing to develop their own chips, with the goal to become self-reliant in the critical technology.

In reality, China is still a long way off even if it’s one step closer to self-sufficiency.

US Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, offered some perspective on China’s technological advancements and subsequent rise to power in an interview this week with Breaking Defense.

“If you look at again, 40 years ago, they had zero satellites. Look at what they’ve got today. They had no ICBMs. Look at what they’ve got today. They had no nuclear weapons. Look at what they’ve got today,” he said.

“They had no fourth or fifth generation fighters or even more advanced fighters, back then. Look at what they’ve got today. They had no navy. Look what they have today. 

“They had no sub force. Look at what they have today.

“We’re witnessing, in my view, we’re witnessing one of the largest shifts in global geostrategic power that the world has witnessed.”

Dave Makichuk is a Western Standard contributor
He has worked in the media for decades, including as an editor for the Calgary Herald. He is also the Calgary correspondent for ChinaFactor.news
makichukd@gmail.com

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Petition: No Media Bailouts

We the undersigned call on the Canadian government to immediately cease all payouts to media companies.

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