Myths and Misconceptions

This post will be an effort to clear up some of the more...  Interesting viewpoints about Canada's next jet fighter.

"Canada should just bring back the Avro Arrow!"

It's simply not that simple.
As romantic and patriotic it would be to simply dust off the Avro Arrow's blueprints and start production, the harsh reality is that it wouldn't be that simple.  First off, the Arrow's schematics and prototypes were all destroyed.  Add to that the fact that a new Arrow would have to be updated to use modern engines, building materials, radar, weapons, and computer systems.  At this point a "new CF-105" would have to be designed, tested, and built from the "ground up".  This would simply be too expensive and it would highly unlikely to produce a combat ready plane by the year 2020.

The Arrow might have been advanced for its time, but it just isn't the right aircraft for this day and age.  Developed solely as a fast, long range, all-weather interceptor; the Arrow would be ill suited for ground strike missions and it would have a tough time dealing with modern air superiority fighters.

Of course...  There is always the future.

"Why buy a manned fighter when drones are obviously the future?"

The MQ-9 "Reaper" UCAV.
Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) and Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicles (UCAVs) are the undeniable future of aerial warfare.  Since they don't need to carry a human pilot on board, they can perform many tasks that are unsuitable for a squishy human operated vehicle to perform.  They are often cheaper and their operators can stay safe at home instead of entering a war zone.

Right now, however, UCAVs are nowhere near the capability of a proper multi-role fighter.  The MQ-9 Reaper pictured above is only really good at attacking "soft targets" with its short range Hellfire missiles or 500lb guided bombs.

Other, more cabable UCAVs, like the X-47B or BAe Taranis, show more promise; but these are still only in the prototype or "technology demonstrator" phase with no confirmed production.  Even then, these UCAV designs would only have similar capabilities to the F-117 stealth fighter, including a small internal weapons bay capable of holding 4-6000lbs of air-to-ground missiles or bombs.

Currently there are no UCAV designs capable of engaging in an air-to-air mission.  Nor are there any in the foreseeable future.

"A single engine jet wouldn't be safe!"

The CF-104, a.k.a "The Lawndart", a.k.a: "The Missile With a Man in it", a.k.a:  "The Widowmaker".
Canadians are a little concerned about the safety of single-engined jet designs.  Rightfully so, when you consider the abysmal safety record of the CF-104 Starfighter.  Out of a total of 239 aircraft, 110 were lost.  Many of these were due to engine failures.

Thankfully, a lot has changed since then.  The CF-104 was first flown in 1954, and even then, it was considered a "hot-rod", cramming the largest, most powerful possible engine into the sleekest, tiniest aircraft.  Jet engine technology was still in its infancy, but pressure from the Cold War pushed fighter designs to their limits.  Added to this was the fact that the Starfighter was initially designed to be a high-altitude bomber-interceptor, but the proliferation of ICBMs changed that.  Instead, the F-14 became a low-level attack aircraft, a role unsuited to its tiny wings and terrible low speed performance.

Nowadays, 60 years later, modern turbofans are much less prone to failure, and undergo thousands of hours of testing before they are deemed fit.  Computer aided design and improved construction techniques make for more durable designs, and modern engine management systems improve reliability as well as providing alerts well before something goes catastrophically wrong.

The F-16 was intentionally designed with a single engine, since it was decided that "a two engine plane with one engine out is useless in combat, and the probability of an engine failure was nominally twice as high with two engines as with one. "  Indeed, the F-16 has a slightly better safety record than the twin-engined F/A-18.

For comparison sake, there have been 18 CF-18s lost out of 138 since it entered service in 1983.  Nine of those resulted in fatalities.  In contrast, out of 235 single engined Saab Gripens in service since 1997,  only 5 have been destroyed in accidents, with 2 of those being pre-production models and 1 happening during a static engine test.  None were caused by engine failure.  None resulted in fatalities.

At any point, if we are that concerned about safety concerns involving long patrols over Canada's arctic...  Wouldn't a UAV be a much better choice?

"Canada would never buy a European aircraft!"

The European made CH-149 Cormorant.
 Canada currently operates the Airbus CC-150 Polaris, the AgustaWestland CH-149 Cormorant, and the BAe CT-115 Hawk.  All built in Europe by European based companies.  The Panavia Tornado was considered for Canada's New Fighter Aircraft Program, but lost out to the F/A-18 due to cost and industrial benefit issues.

There is also the little publicized fact that Canada leased several Russian made Mil CH-178 "Hip"  helicopters for use in Afghanistan.

Besides aircraft, Canada's military equipment is a multinational "melting pot", with weapons and vehicles originating from the U.S, U.K, France, Belgium, Sweden, Switzerland, Germany, South Africa, South Korea, The Netherlands, Norway, and of course, Canada itself.

"The Gripen has too short a range!"

Saab's presentation slide on the Gripen NG's range.

Gripen air-to-air combat radius from various Canadian airbases(thanks,  Mats Johansson!)

It seems the biggest complaint about the Gripen is that it is too small with too short of a range to be any good for Canada.  There is some basis for this, as the early A and B versions of the Gripen were built solely with Sweden's needs in mind.  The later C and D version were built with export sales in mind, adding more NATO compatible hardware and a inflight refuelling probe.  The NG versions modify the Gripen's airframe slightly to allow 40% more fuel to be carried internally, along with improved external tanks capable of holding 450 gallons of fuel each.

With a single 290 gallon external tank, the Gripen E has a combat radius of 1300km.  That is 200 more than the F-35.  Admittedly, the F-35's figure is based on internal fuel only, but the Gripen has the option of dropping its tank once it is empty, as well as flying without it if the range isn't needed.  Equipped with a full load of external tanks, the Gripen E's range is superior to a similarly Super Hornet, and close behind that of the Typhoon and Rafale.  External tanks for the F-35 have been proposed, yet not yet developed or tested.

Not enough?  There are still two more options.

Artist's rendering of a Gripen with CFTs and towed decoys.

  1. Conformal Fuel Tanks (CFTs).  These have already been developed for legacy fighters like the F-15 and F-16, as well as being currently developed for the Eurofighter Typhoon.  CFTs attach to an aircraft providing additional fuel, and in some cases, additional weapon or equipment stations.  They add minimal extra drag, weight, and radar cross section, but can only be removed at base rather than simply dropped like other external tanks.  Although the Gripen currently has no CFT option, this would be a great Canadian contribution to the program and would likely see foreign interest.
  2. A Gripen ER (Extended Range).  Reader Joe Svatt recently e-mailed me with an interesting proposition.  If range is truly an issue, Canada could procure a single seat version of the normally-two-seat Gripen F.  Instead of being used for a co-pilot, that extra space could instead be used for fuel storage.  I'm not sure if this would cause problems with weight or safety issues, or if the single-seat Gripen's cannon could be mounted on the usually gunless Gripen F, but it certainly adds an additional option that should be more than enough to quiet the critics.
For those still unconvinced that the Gripen's range is enough for Canada:  It is far superior to Canada's current CF-18 fleet, with tanks and without.  Also, the Gripen can also be refuelled by Canada's current CC-150 Polaris tanker, something that the F-35 won't be able to do.

For sake of comparison, here's a link that reader Joe Svatt sent me about the F-35 and the "fuzzy math" associated with it's internal fuel carriage and its so far imaginary external tanks.

F-35 vs F-16 range on Aviation Week.

"My uncle had a Saab 9-5, and that car was a lemon!"

No.  Not separated at birth.
The Saab Automobile company was once a subsidiary of the Saab aerospace company now known as Saab Group.  Known building small, front-wheel drive cars with 4 cylinder engines while other manufacturers were building large, rear-wheel drive cars with big V-8s and V-6s.  During this time, it developed a cult following with cars like the quirky Saab 900 Turbo.

In 1989, the Saab Group sold its automobile division to General Motors.  Wishing to compete with the popular BMW and Mercedes Benz models of that time, GM attempted to move Saab cars upmarket.  It even tried to capitalize on Saab's aerospace history by running a "Born From Jets" marketing campaign.

GM's attempt to move Saab Automobile upmarket had little success however.  The Saab nameplate didn't have the same "snob appeal" as BMW or Benz, and things weren't helped when newer Saab models were based on platforms shared with more pedestrian Chevrolet Malibu and Trailblazer.

General Motors' upcoming bankruptcy, combined with ever decreasing sales, led GM to sell the Saab Automotive division to the Dutch Spyker, which in turn has gone bankrupt and sold what little remains of Saab Automotive to National Electric Vehicle Sweden, which intends to build electric vehicles.

Meanwhile, the aerospace and defence division of Saab, now known as Saab Group, is alive and kicking with worldwide sales of military and civilian hardware.

"Canada needs a stealthy, 5th generation fighter!"

The F-35 (left) and F-22. 

Countries that spend far more on military spending than Canada are still taking a "wait and see" approach when it comes to stealth.  France is quite happy with its current batch of Mirage and Rafale fighters, as is India (although India has an interest in the upcoming PAK-FA.)  Germany and Saudi Arabia are quite happy with the Eurofighter Typhoon.  Brazil's current new fighter competition did not even include a stealthy fighter design, and is currently looking at a toss up between the Super Hornet and the Gripen.  South Korea has yet to commit to the F-35, despite its rowdy northern neighbour.  In the meantime, it has the F-15K "Slam Eagle" to patrol its skies.

Remember, there has yet to be a single example of stealth being used in in real air-to-air combat.  Its use has been proven in strike missions only.  These strike missions will undoubtedly be handled more often by the current crop of UCAVs that are in development.

Keep in mind also, that the only current operator of stealthy aircraft is the U.S.  The only other stealthy aircraft in existence are the Russian PAK-FA (T-50), the Chengdu J-20, and the Shenyang J-31.  All of these are currently in the prototype phase, and are unlikely to see production before 2020 (if at all) and are even more unlikely to reach widespread use before 2030 or beyond, when 6th generation fighters will likely be entering service.

"Canada doesn't need jet fighters at all!"

Lets just pretend...
The great thing about belonging to NORAD and NATO means that Canada has the support of the much (MUCH) larger United States when it comes to military support.  Any country foolish enough to attack Canada would have to deal with America as well.  So why not let the Americans spend all the money on military hardware?  Canada could use that money to feed the poor, build schools, etc...

Of course, being part of NATO means that we have to contribute as well.  That means putting our people and equipment in harm's way from time to time.

With the Arctic Circle thawing out due to climate change, and plenty of untapped resources waiting to be claimed, Canada needs to enforce its sovereignty in the region or risk losing out to other countries like Russia, the U.S.A, Denmark, Norway and even China.  An actual "shooting war" would be unlikely, but a military presence would go a long way to settle any land claims.

Lastly, wars are fought with the military you have at the time.  One of the harsh lessons of World War II was how woefully unprepared the allied militaries were.  Nazi German and Japanese forces were much better prepared and equipped.  Canada needs to be able to at least defend itself against any potential attacker, possibly without any sort of warning.


  1. Myths and Misconceptions regarding the F-35:

    Is it true or false that the International version of the F-35A will be less advanced regarding stealth or sensor suit compared to the American version?

    Is it true or false that the F-35A will have a satellite triggered on/off switch deep in its software so that it cannot be used in any way USA dislikes?

    1. I think this might be "tin-foil hat" territory.

      Most likely, foreign versions of the F-35 will be almost identical to the American versions. However, Lockheed Martin and the Pentagon will have the only access to the "source code" of the software.

      Simply put, if a F-35 operator becomes an "undesirable" the U.S. simply stops supporting future software upgrades and bug fixes. This alone could be enough to ground the aircraft.

  2. F-35 has all the latest and advanced avionics the world has ever see. It's performance eg. speed, maneuverability were gigantically disappointing. In BVR, the F-35 excels but in WVR it will be different.

    By Bsp MacMillan (Mac) @Facebook

  3. There is no doubt, F-35 stands as most advanced aircraft due to its short-take off and landing. Here is one article where you can compare top 10 advanced aircraft's .

    1. That's the F-35B STOVL version. Canada would buy the simpler, cheaper, F-35A.

  4. Mistake: F-14 instead of 104.

  5. I'd like to clarify some misconceptions you have:

    The Avro Arrow was a lemon, that whole design generation was a bust, and the Arrow was behind schedule and completely obsolete by the time it took it's maiden flight.

    The Gripen is a lousy plane for a Canadian military serious about protecting it's airspace. If Canada was serious it would adopt the F-15 or something of that class.

    Canada's contribution to foreign partnerships is token, we amount to little more than support personnel for other nations.

    Why is all this the case? The strongest reason I can see is that our country's people and government have a childlike understanding of military affairs and what national sovereignty really means. People like the author reinforce that.

  6. I did get a chance to take a very short sneak peek at the suggested modernised Arrow, and they certainly seemed to have everything needed.
    Now, it´s probably not the most suitable plane, but it would probably have managed to be cheaper than the F-35 by far, while having el neato range and speed, so overall i wouldn´t call it a bad idea at least. Supercruise with full warload not too far from the top speed of F-35 is a nice thing all by itself.

    And i´ll have to disagree, unmanned vehicles are very much not the "undeniable future" of aerial warfare. They may be the future of 1st world vs 3rd world warfare, but not much else. The simple truth is that once a UAV is over enemy territory, even just a basic brute force EW attack can be extremely effective, and hacking the control channel is not nearly as hard as UAV proponents would wish.
    That is actually part of the reason why the datalink for the Gripen(and Swedish UAVs) uses a lot of standard internet style protocol parts, because that allows using well established and very effective firewalls and antivirus software.
    And the datalink is kept separate from some parts of the electronics for the same reason, to disallow even advanced attempts at hacking to do more than be annoying.
    Which is impossible for UAVs.
    And then there is the main reason, a pilot has flexibility that computers or remote operation isn´t even faintly close to reaching.
    I also recall when i was a kid, and UAVs started to appear, and the choir shouted that manned aircraft would be obsolete in a decade. That´s 30 years ago. And UAVs still isn´t close to reaching that point.

    Oh, and the F-104, in its intended role, as a high altitude slash fighter, freaking marvellous! ;)

    5th generation? You really should consider noting that the whole concept of 5th generation is effectively a complete myth, people who wanted to sell F-22 and F-35 arbitrarily selected features their planes were supposed to have but others not, and then said that those were what made a plane a new generation. It´s essentially a scam.

    Then the F-35 failed to live up to some of those features except on paper and suddenly there´s much less talk about how revolutionary 5th generation is(and some attempts to retroactively alter the requirements). ^_^


  7. Nice link to what czech airforce think of the reliability of the gripen c/d engine. The article says its a F404-GE-400 but thats wrong, its a rm12 engine built 50%by volvo 50% is still f404.
    The new gripen e/f will have a more standardised engine called F414-39E. I guess it will be some changes to this new engine as well because of the whole new naming going only to gripen. Probably some safety features...i dunno really just guessing.