Once one has been a blogger for even a little while, one learns to develop a pretty thick skin when it comes to blasé incompetence from our paid professional betters. You see, the difference is that blogs are peer-reviewed. Commenters and other bloggers jump on us when we make an egregious mistake, and call us names. That doesn’t happen in the professional media. Instead, they circle the wagons, print a barely noticeable correction notice, and carry on.
Our exhibit for today is an almost unbelievable litany of errors from Postmedia’s Matthew Fisher. Seriously unbelievable, as in, of Wente-ian proportions. Mr. Fisher is “Canada’s most experienced, well-traveled foreign correspondent.” Today he had the following to say about the F-35. We’ll run through all of Mr. Fisher’s claims, because I think it’s important to celebrate a journalist’s successes, not just denounce their failures.
1. The F-18 Super Hornet “is the only serious rival” to the F-35.
I suppose that depends on what you mean by “serious.” There are actually quite a number of modern jet fighters in the Western world (assuming we’re not going to buy a good Russian plane, which does seem unlikely). So far the government has not deigned to share with Canadians a clear statement of requirements, so we have no idea what its rivals might be, because we don’t know what the government requires our plane to do.
We have, however, repeatedly been told that stealth is the essential characteristic. Whether you agree with that criterion or not, if it’strue, then the F-18 is not a serious rival to the F-35, for the fairly obvious reason that it is not a stealth fighter.
2. If we bought the F-18 Super Hornet “electronic warfare variant,” it would cost us just as much as the F-35.
By “electronic warfare variant,” Fisher actually means the EA-18 Growler, which for all intents and purposes is the same airframe but adding lots and lots of jamming equipment. Note the different name, which is a useful clue that these are not swappable planes: they serve entirely different roles. To that end, the U.S. has built 96 Growlers, compared with 500 Super Hornets.
If the Canadian government proposes “buying the two-seat electronic warfare variant” in place of a jet fighter, it will do more than raise a few eyebrows in Washington. While we’re on the subject, though, the unit flyaway cost of the EA-18G is $68.2 million. The current price of an F-35A is evidently $107 million, though our government says it will fall to $87 million by the time we buy them. You can make all these numbers equal up in whatever way you find most appropriate. I suggest complete fabrication.
3. It’s inappropriate to worry about F-35 operating costs, because “few people” worry about such things when buying a car.
Leaving aside the fact that operating costs must be factored into major defence procurement estimates, in accordance with federal law, I think I speak for at least a couple of dozen Canadians when I say that some of us really do ask at least once about average mileage when we buy a car. Not all of us,but definitely some of us.
4. The F-35′s cost estimates are so high because it will be used for 42 years, whereas the “international standard” is only 20 years.
Fisher doesn’t appear to have opened a newspaper in over a week. That’s about long the professional media has been prattling on about its supposed “coup” in noticing that DND’s “42-year” life cycle estimate actually included only 30 years of operating cost estimates. Indeed, they were so proud about finding it that they all missed an even more extreme adjustment buried a little deeper in the report. Plus, the 20-year “life cycle” estimates have never, ever included 12 years of R&D downtime. The “42-year” estimate does.
Fisher also doesn’t seem to have read the latest DND report, which states that the common practice set by the Joint Strike Fighter Program Office is to “base… cost estimates on a 30-year aircraft life cycle.” Oops again.
5. It’s unfair to estimate the cost of the F-35 without pointing out that “the CBC… will cost taxpayers more by 2052 than whatever new fighter jets Canada eventually purchases.”
I have no idea what this is even supposed to mean. Incidentally, the healthcare system costs more in one year than the fighter replacement program will ever cost us, too. But for what it’s worth, CBC’s annual federal funding is now being cut to around $1 billion. That times 40 years is still less than $45.8 billion, which is the current estimated total price tag for the F-35. So unless something changes, the CBC won’t actually cost taxpayers more than the F-35.
And, since Fisher brings it up, it is interesting to make these sorts of price comparisons. What’s a better deal: half a lifetime’s worth of quality independent media (plus, Hockey Night in Canada), or a few dozen stealth fighters?
6. The new report actually proves that “cost estimates prepared several years ago by National Defence were accurate.”
At the risk of sounding redundant: once again, Fisher doesn’t seem to have actually read the reports. DND actually included a helpful table comparing the “old” 2010 estimate and the “new” 2012 estimate. The new estimate includes $565 million in development costs (the initial estimate included zero development costs) and then, in order to keep the total acquisition tally under $9 billion, it also eliminates one-third of the planned flight simulators and 80% of the ammunition budget (oh, good), amongst other various other adjustments.
DND also notes that the unit flyaway cost is increasing from $75 million to $87.4 million US. That’s accurate enough, I suppose. For instance, this morning I spent somewhere between fifty cents and $15 million buying a cup of orange juice. See? Accuracy!
7. Other planes are just as expensive. The Super Hornet costs $88 million per aircraft, which is identical to KPMG’s estimate for a F-35.
KPMG’s estimate is for the unit flyaway cost. I don’t know what Fisher’s particular source is, but this year’s U.S. Navy budget documents say that the unit cost for the Super Hornet has declined to $66.9 million. That’s only, oh, a few dozen times what I’ll probably make in my entire life. Per aircraft. Obviously Fisher and me have different definitions of “identical.”
There’s the added bonus that the Super Hornet actually costs $67 million each, today, right now, on the invoice. That $88 million figure for the F-35 is an accountant’s guess of what it might cost, eventually, barring any more drastic cost inflation.
Moving right along, on the same theme:
8. The Eurofighter Typhoon costs $115 million each.
The British MOD says that the Typhoon’s cost is £64.8 million. At today’s rates, according to XE.com, that works out to $109 million. It’s much closer than the last estimates, which is good, because I’m rapidly running out of sarcastic comments to make. The exact figure fluctuates with the currency, but yes, it does appear that the Eurofighter costs more than the F-35. Assuming we actually buy the F-35, and assuming that the cost figure for the Eurofighter is a unit flyaway price, which isn’t made clear.
9. New Super Hornets cost $88 million, “identical” to the F-35.
Note that in the space of just a couple of paragraphs, Fisher’s price estimate for the Super Hornet has gone up markedly: it used to be that the Growler electronic warfare version was as expensive as the F-35, but now we’re only going to get the bog-standard Super Hornet for the same cost. More importantly, as I already noted, the American Department of Defense stated in this year’s budget documents that the Super Hornet’s unit cost would be $66.9 million. Not $88 million.
That $87 million F-35 cost figure, by the way, is in American dollars. DND’s actual estimate, for the moment, is $92 million Cdn.
10. Australia’s new Super Hornets “will cost more than $100 million each.”
This statement literally comes in the next sentence after Fisher just finished telling us that the Super Hornets cost $88 million. I’m sure there’s a rational explanation. In theory there shouldn’t be a variance, because the Super Hornet is already in production, unless we’re dealing with different versions, different equipment packages, or extra equipment and set-up costs being built into the Australian figure.
11. The Dassault Rafale costs $80-$120 million.
This estimate is confirmed at Wikipedia, but the higher number presumably includes extra features. In India’s recent fighter competition, the Rafale’s cost estimate was about $85 million, slightly less than the F-35. If, again, the F-35′s cost actually comes down on schedule. Right now that’s substantially cheaper than the F-35.
12. The Gripen E jet costs $100 million each.
Once again, it’s not stated whether this is a unit flyaway cost (and thus a fair comparison with the F-35 figure) or includes extra bells and whistles. I can’t find the estimated cost of a new Gripen online. Old versions were much cheaper but, of course, they’re old versions. This announcement actually says that the Swiss Gripens will cost something like $150 million each.
13. The F-35 purchase has not been controversial in other countries like it is here.
I’m not going to even touch this one.
14. The F-35 fighter jet, like war crimes committed by Canadian soldiers, is not important to Canadians.
Yeah, I’m not going to touch that one either.Tweet