Thursday, 26 April 2012

What does Canada need?

The present and future?  F-18 following a F-35.
The Cold War is over.  Instead, we have global economic instability, terrorism, and threats we have yet to learn about.  Do we need jet fighters?  Do we even still need a military?  Of course.  Canada still needs to protect its sovereignty and it needs to fulfill its NATO requirements.  Canada also needs to be prepared for threats that may be unforeseeable at this time.  Canada is a land of untapped natural resources, there may come a time when we need to defend those resources.  Many of which are still being found in the Arctic Circle.

So what does Canada need?  It's a big country with not a lot of airbases.  That means we need a fast, long range interceptor much like the Avro Arrow.  That's easy.  Most modern multi-role fighters are capable of matching or exceeding the Arrow's range, the addition of drop tanks and air-to-air refueling make it even less of an issue.  Of course, when intercepting a hostile, you need more than range, you need to get to the threat as quickly as possible.  For many fighters, this means using afterburners.  Unfortunately, afterburners drastically reduce range they also make the jet and easy target for infrared sensors.  There are a few jet fighters, however, that are capable of exceeding the speed of sound without using afterburners.  This feature, called supercruise, can give fighters like the F-22 Raptor and Eurofighter Typhoon a huge advantage.

An F-22 breaking the sound barrier.  Notice the lack of afterburners.
Of course, you can't engage an enemy if you can't see it.  For that, you need modern detection equipment.  Powerful radar, infrared sensors, and data-links to friendly aircraft are needed.  Modern fighters use Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radars which are hard to detect and jam through electronic countermeasures.

Infrared Search and Track (IRST) sensors detect heat given off by jet engines, missiles, and can provide a much clearer picture of the battlefield.

A data-link system works as "force multiplier" letting any linked unit use information collected by any other unit on that system.  This means that if any unit "sees" an enemy, they all "see" the enemy.  It also allows several separate radars housed in different aircraft to be combined into a much larger, virtual radar.

A modern MiG-35 shows off its AESA radar and a IRST dome at the base of its cockpit. 

Of course, all the speed, range, and high tech avionics doesn't mean a thing if you can't get the plane in the air.  Most jet fighters need long, smooth runways to land on, surrounded by hangers filled with spare parts and technicians to keep them flying.

Trouble is, sometimes you need to send those jet fighters somewhere else.  Be it for training purposes, fulfilling a NATO requirement, or just showing the flag; sooner or later, you need to land that fancy jet fighter at a less than ideal location.  With only two airbases capable ideal for jet fighters (CFB Cold Lake and CFB Bagotville), Canada needs a fighter that has little problem operating out of other bases like CFB Comox, CFB Greenwood, or, worst case, CFS Alert.

A CC-177 Globemaster III lands on CFS Alert's icy runway.
There are a few ways of making a fast jet land on a lousy, or sometimes non-existent, runway.  Strengthened landing gear, tail hooks, drag chutes, and in extreme cases, vertical  or short take off and landing designs.  Canada's current CF-18 was designed from the start to take off and land on an aircraft carrier, so it has little problem in this department.  Previous Canadian fighters like the F-104 Starfighter and F-101 Voodoo used drag chutes.

V/STOLs like the AV-8B Harrier take off and land pretty much anywhere.
Theoretically, a V/STOL aircraft would be a great choice for deployment flexibility.  Realistically, they don't make much sense for Canada.  Short range, high cost, and they require more maintenance than conventional fighter jet.

More than anything else, Canada needs to keep its military equipment affordable.  We don't have the deep pockets of our southern neighbors.  We don't have the resources nor the military ambition of countries like China.  If we did, we would would be replacing fleets of CF-15s instead of CF-18s.

The less of this stuff needed, the better.
A Canadian jet fighter must be cheap to procure, cheap to deploy, and cheap to maintain.

So, what does it all break down into?  Four "F"s.

  • Fast.  For interception duties.
  • Fierce.  Able to detect and engage any potential target.
  • Flexible.  For deployment, within Canada and abroad.
  • Frugal.  Canadian taxpayers demand value for their money.

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