And Why Canada Must Not Buy a New Fleet
Tamara Lorincz / Women’s International League for Peace & Freedom Canada
Note: The following are excerpts from a detailed 48-page report. To read the entire publication online, click here.
A fighter jet is an instrument of extreme violence. The most obvious violence results from the large-scale destruction and death caused when it launches a missile or drops a bomb. Yet, there are other forms of violence from sonic booms to the carbon pollution that are often overlooked.
Worse still, Indigenous peoples in Canada have suffered severe adverse effects from the dispossession of their land for air force bases to the disruption of their traditional livelihoods for fighter jet training. As the Government of Canada plans to buy a new fleet of advanced fighter jets, it is critical to consider the range of negative impacts and risks.
In 2019, the Liberal government under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau launched a $19-billion competition for 88 new fighter jets to replace Canada’s aging CF-188 Hornets. It is the second most expensive procurement in Canadian history.
The federal government is currently evaluating the bids submitted for two different combat aircraft: Lockheed Martin’s F-35 Joint Strike fighter and SAAB’s Gripen multirole fighter. Last fall, the government announced that it was dropping the bid for Boeing’s Super Hornet. The Trudeau government plans to choose the winning bid and award the contract in early 2022. However, the procurement process does not transparently and comprehensively consider the serious risks posed by these warplanes.
Moreover, there has not been any government or Parliamentary report on the threat of fighter jets to people and the natural environment. There has not been a government study on the opportunity costs of investing in combat aircraft over other domestic priorities and the possibilities for disarmament.
The federal government and the Department of National Defence have also failed to conduct and publicize an environmental assessment and a gender-based analysis of the fighter jet procurement. The opposition parties in the House of Commons and the Senate have also been reluctant to or have failed to ask critical questions about the risks and harms of combat aircraft and to consider alternatives.
This report begins with an overview of Canada’s current fleet of combat aircraft and the planned procurement. It then examines some of the past and present harmful impacts, including environmental, climate, nuclear, noise, financial and socio-cultural, of fighter jets and the air force bases where they are stationed in Canada.
The report uses a critical feminist analysis that considers gender-based impacts and seeks out women’s perspectives. It also highlights the cumulative, adverse impacts on First Nations across the country by looking at the history of low-level fight jet training on Innu people in Labrador and of the creation of the Cold Lake Air Weapons Range on the land of the Dene and Cree peoples in Alberta and Saskatchewan.
The extreme noise, excessive carbon emissions, the destruction of the land from weapons testing and the death of people from air strikes are some of the grave harms caused by fighter jets and should be factored into the federal government’s procurement decision.
Special attention is given in this report to the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lighting II because this is the warplane that the Canadian government will most likely choose. Since 1997, Canada has paid almost $1 billion to be part of the international consortium to develop the F-35, a fifth-generation fighter jet.
As well, our closest defence partner, the United States, and our transatlantic allies, including the United Kingdom, Netherlands, Belgium and Denmark, have already bought this fighter jet. However, the F-35 poses a crash risk because of technical flaws and a financial risk because of its escalating cost overruns leading many defence analysts to describe it as a “colossal boondoggle” or a “fiasco.”
Even more troubling, the F-35 is a stealth fighter designed for first strike attacks and is dual-capable for carrying both conventional and tactical nuclear weapons. The F-35 extends the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s nuclear deterrence and it risks a catastrophic nuclear accident or nuclear-armed conflict.
The source of the information for this report is varied deriving from government documents, Department of National Defence policies and reports, Access to Information records, news sources, civil society research and interviews. Some of the information has been acquired from correspondence with the federal government.
Last year, the author also went to Alberta to meet with members of the Cold Lake First Nation and to see 4 Wing Cold Lake and organized a webinar with a member of the Sheshatshiu Innu First Nation to learn how fighter jets are affecting these Indigenous communities.
As well, the author reached out to community groups, such as Safe Skies, Clean Water and Save Our Skies, Stop the F-35s, that have protested the Lockheed Martin stealth fighters in Burlington, Vermont and Sound Defense Alliance that is opposing the extreme noise of the Boeing fighter jets in the Pacific Northwest. These organizations shared useful resources.
As part of the feminist analysis, the author sought out the stories of women including Indigenous women who have been affected by the air force bases and fighter jets on their traditional territory. For example, two years ago, Tshaukuesh Elizabeth Penashue published a moving account about her resistance to the low-level fighter jet testing at 5 Wing Goose Bay in Labrador and described the trauma suffered by the Sheshatshiu Innu First Nation.
If Canada buys a new fleet of fighter jets, it will reinforce a patriarchal institution of state violence and sexual misconduct. The Canadian Armed Forces have a serious problem with sexual harassment and sexual assaults against women and a culture hostile to women in the military.
Fighter jets have long been associated with derogatory gendered discourse and sexualized imagery. They privilege a masculinized defence industry and a preserve an economic system based on arms exports. They will also lock-in a future of carbon-intensive militarism making it more difficult to decarbonize and prevent catastrophic climate change. Fighter jets are incompatible with Canada’s purported claim to have a feminist foreign policy and a commitment to climate action.
This report is made possible through a grant from the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) and is part of WILPF Canada’s project entitled Demilitarize Decarbonize Decolonize. WILPF Canada is an affiliate of WILPF International, the world’s oldest feminist peace organization.
WILPF Canada is also a member of the No New Fighter Jets coalition that was formed in the summer 2020 to stop the Trudeau government from proceeding with the warplane procurement. The coalition is comprised of approximately twenty-five peace groups and progressive organizations across Canada.
The coalition has held National Days of Action outside the offices of Members of Parliament, a Fast Against Fighter Jets and several webinars. The coalition has also released open letters and petitions. In the spring of the 2021, the coalition’s report From Acquisition to Disposal: Uncovering the true cost of 88 new fighter jets estimated that the full life-cycle cost of the procurement would be upwards of $76.8 billion. This report is complementary and focuses on the soaring negative impacts to the environment, climate, women, and First Nations communities.
The Government of Canada has a choice: it can buy new fighter jets with all the attendant adverse impacts or it can choose not to buy them. By canceling the procurement of new warplanes, Canada would have the resources to build safer housing and end boil water advisories in First Nations communities.
The federal government has made a commitment to reconciliation with Indigenous people and this should begin with returning and remediating the land that was expropriated for air force bases and fighter jet testing. Land back should be led by Indigenous people and informed by their traditional knowledge and wisdom for stewardship, reconciliation and healing.
To decide not to buy fight jets opens the door to a new politics of peace and a real possibility of transformational change as explained in the conclusion of this report. Twenty years ago, the Labour Prime Minister of New Zealand, Helen Clark, announced the cancellation of the contract for a new fleet of F-16 fighter jets and the disbanding of the combat wing of the air force.
The Canadian government could likewise say no to combat aircraft and yes to a care economy. Investment in care not combat would make our society more secure and better able to tackle the urgent challenges we are facing: the pandemic, poverty and the climate emergency. The federal government should ground its plans for new fighter jets.
A fighter jet is an instrument of extreme violence. The most obvious violence results from the large-scale destruction and death caused when a fighter jet launches a missile or drops a bomb. Yet, there are other forms of violence from sonic booms to the carbon pollution that are often overlooked. Worse still, Indigenous peoples in Canada have suffered severe trauma from land dispossession for military bases to the disruption of their traditional livelihoods from fighter jet training and air weapons testing.
As the Government of Canada plans to buy a new fleet of advanced fighter jets, it is crucial to consider the full range and cumulative nature of these adverse impacts.
However, there has not been any government report or Parliamentary study on the impacts of fighter jets on people and the natural environment. There has also not been an assessment of the financial risks and opportunity costs of buying them. The opposition parties in the House of Commons and the Senate have also been reluctant or have failed to ask critical questions about this planned purchase. The federal government and the Department of National Defence (DND) have also failed to conduct and publicize an environmental assessment and a Gender-Based Analysis (GBA) of the fighter jet procurement.
This report fills the gaps and focuses on the past and present harmful impacts, including environmental, climate, nuclear, financial, socio-cultural and gender-based, of fighter jets and the air force bases where they are stationed. It begins with an overview of Canada’s current fleet of combat aircraft and the planned procurement. It then describes the risks and adverse impacts of fighter jets in the Canadian context and uses a critical feminist analysis.
The extreme noise, excessive carbon emissions, the destruction of the land from weapons testing and the death of people from air strikes are some of the harms that fighter jets cause. Special attention is given in this report to the F-35 because this is the fighter jet that the federal government will most likely choose as Canada has been part of the international consortium for its development since 1997 and our closest allies have bought it.
The source of the information for this report is varied deriving from government documents, DND policies and reports, Access to Information (ATI) records, news sources, civil society research and interviews. Some of the information is also from correspondence with DND and from an environmental petition filed with the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development in the Office of the Auditor General.
The author also went to Alberta to meet with members of the Cold Lake First Nation and to view the air force base and the CF-18s train. As part of the feminist analysis, the author sought out the stories of Canadian women including Indigenous women.
As well, the author reached out to civil society groups, such as Save Our Skies/Stop the F-35s that has protested the Lockheed Martin stealth fighter fleet coming to the airport in Vermont and Sound Defense Alliance that is opposing the extreme noise of Boeing fighter jets in the Pacific Northwest, and has incorporated their important observations into the report.
This report is made possible through a grant from the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) and is part of WILPF Canada’s project entitled Demilitarize Decarbonize Decolonize. WILPF Canada is a member of the No New Fighter Jets coalition that was formed in Canada in the summer 2020. In the spring of the 2021, the coalition released a study From Acquisition to Disposal: Uncovering the true cost of 88 new fighter jets that estimated the full life-cycle cost of fighter jet procurement to be $76.8 billion.
This report is complementary and examines the soaring harms and risks to the environment, climate, women, and First Nations communities of fighter jets. It concludes by suggesting that the federal government has a critical decision to make: invest in combat or care.
The government is urged to ground plans for new combat aircraft and instead invest in a green, care economy that would centre reconciliation and land back claims with Indigenous peoples and would make our country better able to deal with the pandemic, poverty and the climate emergency.
Canada’s Planned Fighter Jet Procurment
The Conservative government under Prime Minister Stephen Harper had planned to purchase 65 F-35s for $9 billion in a sole-source contract, which was in violation of federal procurement rules. However, the Conservatives lost the 2015 federal election to the Liberal party and the contract did not proceed.
During that election, Liberal leader Justin Trudeau called the F-35 program “unaffordable” and promised to cancel it and set up an open competition to replace Canada’s fighter jet fleet. The Liberal Party’s 2015 election platform also stated categorically that “we will not buy the F-35 stealth fighter-bomber” and that a defence policy review would be held. The Liberals won the election and launched consultations for a new defence policy.
The Liberal’s defence policy, Strong Secure Engaged (SSE), was announced in June 2017 and explained that the RCAF would acquire 88 advanced fighter jets “to enforce Canada’s sovereignty and to meet Canada’s NORAD and NATO commitments.”34 The SSE specified that Canada’s new fighter capability must maintain high interoperability with American allies.
Currently, the federal government is evaluating two bids: Lockheed Martin’s F-35 stealth fighter and SAAB’s Gripen multi-role fighter. The government recently dropped Boeing’s Super Hornet from the competition. However, the Super Hornet is most closely related to Canada’s current fleet of CF-18. A comparison of specifications among the F-35, Super Hornet and Gripen is provided in Appendix 1. The Trudeau government has said that it will pick the winning bid by early 2022 and it expects that the first combat aircraft will be delivered by 2025.
Most likely, the federal government will choose the F-35, because our closest defence partner, the US, manufactures and flies the F-35 and our NATO allies, including the United Kingdom, Netherlands, Belgium and Denmark, have already bought this warplane.
As well, the Canadian government has already spent almost $1 billion to participate in the international development consortium of this stealth fighter over the past twenty years. The specific problems and risks of the F-35s will be described later in this report.
Partners in War Crimes:
Interoperability with NATO and NORAD
Canada’s air force is deeply integrated in NATO and NORAD and these alliances are the key justifications for new combat aircraft. NATO is a US-dominated, nuclear-armed military alliance of 30 Western countries. Canada was one of twelve founding members of transatlantic alliance in 1949. Since its inception, NATO’s Supreme Commander has always been an American general who leads the operations of the Allied Command. Despite the Cold War ending and Soviet-led Warsaw Pact disbanding in 1991, NATO continued to exist and has expanded its membership.
Over the past thirty years, NATO members, including Canada, have been engaged in deadly, destructive wars, such as the illegal bombing of the former Yugoslavia in 1999, the bombing Libya in 2011 and the failed combat mission in Afghanistan from 2001 to 2021. As well, NATO regularly engages in dangerous, provocative large-scale military exercises near Russia’s borders, such as Steadfast Defender and Steadfast Noon.
At the 2014 Wales Summit, NATO members made a commitment to spend 2% of gross domestic product (GDP) on the military and of that amount 20% on new weapons systems. According to NATO’s latest Defence Expenditures report, Canada has increased military spending to $33 billion, which is 1.39% of GDP, in 2021.
To fulfill NATO requirements for interoperability, analysts expect that Canada will choose the F-35 over the Gripen, because Sweden is not a NATO member. In 2020, the transatlantic alliance released its new agenda, NATO 2030, which ominously identifies Russia and China as prime threats.
In October 2021, a Canadian warship with American and British carrier strike groups and F-35s conducted a freedom of navigation operation in the South China Sea antagonizing China. This is an example of the F-35s with Canadian forces close to China’s border. If Canada buys new fighter jets, these are the types of provocative operations in which they will be engaged.
NORAD is a joint military partnership between Canada and the US that was established in 1958. The NORAD headquarters are located at the Peterson Space Force Base near Colorado Springs in Colorado. The Commander of NORAD is always an American general and the Vice Commander is a Canadian general, which is another example of Canada’s subservience. NORAD was set up during the Cold War as an early warning system to detect planes and potential attacks from the Soviet Union.
There were three NORAD radar lines from the Arctic to the Canada-US border set up: the Distant Early Warning (DEW) Line; the Mid-Canada Line; and the Pinetree Line. These radar installations were placed on land expropriated from Indigenous people. Over the years, the DEW sites were abandoned with terrible contamination. Canada was left covering most of the cost to remediate the sites.
In August 2021, Canada and the US announced a NORAD modernization program. This modernization will involve new fighter jets and new sensors from the seabed to outer space. These weapons and radar systems risk greater contamination. Upgrading these systems will be costly and will enrich weapons manufacturers like Lockheed Martin and Boeing.
In the SSE, the Government of Canada stated that the planned new fleet of fighter jets will also fulfill NORAD obligations. Moreover, in 2019, Patrick Finn, DND’s assistant deputy minister of materiel, told The Canadian Press that the US will have to certify the fighter jet that Canada chooses to ensure that it complies with the top-secret intelligence networks.
Yet, the federal government could withdraw Canada from NORAD, taking independent control over its airspace, and could withdraw Canada from NATO and the “Five Eyes” intelligence alliance, working diplomatically with other countries for peace and common security.
Canadian Fighter Jets for NATO
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) is a US-dominated, nuclear-armed military alliance of 30 North American and European countries. Canada was one of twelve founding members of transatlantic alliance in 1949. Despite the Soviet-led Warsaw Pact disbanding in 1991, NATO continued to exist and expand.
Over the past thirty years, 14 countries have joined the alliance. Since the end of the Cold War, NATO has been engaged in deadly, destructive wars. In these wars, NATO members have flown fighter jets for the illegal bombing of the former Yugoslavia in 1999, the bombing Libya in 2011 and the failed combat mission in Afghanistan from 2001 to 2021.
The North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) is a joint military partnership between Canada and the US established in 1958. The NORAD Headquarters is located at the Peterson Space Force Base near Colorado Springs, Colorado.
Canadian Fighter Jets for NORAD
The Commander of NORAD is always a US general and the vice-commander is a Canadian general. NORAD was set up during the Cold War as an early warning system of possible attacks from the Soviet Union. Fighter jets have been an integral part of the command system. American and Canadian fighter jets regularly train together across North America. The US and Canada are now engaged in a costly NORAD modernization program.
About the Author
Tamara Lorincz is a member of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) Canada. She is also a member of WILPF International’s Environment Group and a co-founding member of the No New Fighter Jets Coalition in Canada.
Tamara is a PhD candidate at the Balsillie School for International Affairs at Wilfrid Laurier University. She has a Masters in International Politics & Security Studies from the University of Bradford. She also has a Law degree and MBA specializing in environmental law and management from Dalhousie University. Her doctoral research is on the climate and environmental impacts of the military. She previously worked as a senior researcher for the International Peace Bureau and wrote the 2014 report Demilitarization for Deep Decarbonization (www.ipb.org).
About WILPF Canada
The Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) Canada is a membership-led organization committed to a feminist peace, social justice, and gender equality. WILPF Canada is active in the No New Fighter Jets Coalition, the Canada-Wide Peace and Justice Network, and the Women, Peace and Security Network-Canada. WILPF Canada is a national section of WILPF international, which is the world’s longest standing women peace organization founded in 1915. WILPF International has an Environment Working Group, the Reaching Critical Will disarmament program, and the PeaceWomen program to monitor the United Nations Security Council’s agenda on Women, Peace and Security.
Contact WILPF Canada
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Web site: wilpfcanada.ca Twitter: @wilpfcanada Instagram: @wilpfcanada