Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Good morning, everyone.
Let me start by thanking the committee today for calling the CDA as a witness for your study of Canadian air defence procurement.
The Conference of Defence Associations was founded in 1932 and today serves as an umbrella group for 40 member associations who represent over 400,000 active and retired members of the Canadian Armed Forces. Our goal is to foster a facts-based rational approach to Canada's defence and security policy.
Now, for full disclosure with the committee, I want to mention that the CDA Institute, our sister organization, counts Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Airbus and Pratt & Whitney as past and current clients. However, the bulk of our income is obtained through competitive grants, private donations and ticket sales to our events, and the above four represent a minute fraction of overall revenues.
Having said that, the key thing here is that we do not have a favoured aircraft in this fight, nor would it be appropriate for a think tank like ours—a charity organization, a non-partisan organization—to take sides. We trust that through the analysis of capability requirements and industrial benefits, the government apparatus is very well equipped to make a reasoned decision.
It has been a long-held CDA view that Canada's North American air defences need to be fully modernized, and a future fighter is a key part of that process.
In March 2022, Canada picked the Lockheed Martin F-35 as the preferred bidder to supply 88 new fighter aircraft. This decision comes late, in our view. Indeed, a lot of what we know today about the F-35 we knew already in 2012. The last thing Canada should want to do now is to delay any longer. The RCAF and our national industrial base have waited long enough.
We need a robust defence industrial base in order to deliver much-needed materiel to the Canadian Armed Forces in a way that is economically sustainable for our country and that delivers high-value jobs to Canadians. Having said that, let's be careful not to forget the “B” in ITBs. Economic benefits are a key outcome of military procurement and the means to sustain it, but they are merely a benefit, not the end goal itself.
Delivering the right capabilities for the right price at the right time is the fundamental role of military procurement. If government focuses too strongly on ITBs and loses sight of what the CAF needs, we wind up paying far too much for the wrong capabilities that arrive too late.
Bureaucratic risk-averse procedures are key contributors to rust-out. Recognizing the need for parliamentary oversight, we think it should be extended to grant political cover to procurement issues where bureaucrats dare not tread, in order to speed up the process. Now that we have selected the F-35, we should go quickly to contract and make sure that we get the full range of integrated sensors for it to operate at it best.
Canada also needs to put in place full logistics and support, maintenance, infrastructure and information technology upgrades and training programs in support of the decision.
The F-35 will boost our ability to confront new generations of airborne threats. These threats include cruise missiles, hypersonic weapons systems, ballistic missiles, UAVs and fractional orbital bombardment systems. The F-35 cannot come soon enough, as the war in Ukraine has demonstrated the dangers of hypersonic weapons and suicide drones.
We also have witnessed the powerful effects of ultra-modern air defences on the battlefield. In addition to the F-35, Canada will need a robust ground-based air defence system that includes shoulder-held anti-aircraft missiles and a counter-drone capability.
In a future conflict in which Canada is called on to enforce a no-fly zone or police the skies over NATO countries, the F-35 would be our most effective platform for such a mission.
Since SSE was written, the geopolitical environment has rapidly declined. Russia has engaged in a full-scale war in Ukraine, and we have seen distressing levels of escalation in the Indo-Pacific.
Vladimir Putin's Russia has become extremely dangerous and unpredictable. It is also our next-door neighbour in the north.
Air assets are therefore crucial to protecting our sovereignty. Just last week, American F-16s were scrambled after two Russian Tu-95 Bear-H bombers entered the Alaskan air defence identification zone.
Being able to support our allies in NORAD and NATO is not only key to our national sovereignty and security. It's also important as a means whereby a middle power like Canada can help uphold the rules-based order, which is so central to our strategic interest.
Our economy and values depend on the rules-based system, and we also depend on our allies to sustain it. In exchange, both need to be able to depend on us, so we must be equipped and ready to do our fair share.
I will stop there.
I will be pleased to answer your questions, whether it be in English or in French.