The CF-18 Hornet has served Canada well. Since 1982 when the RCAF first began to receive them, they have done their job and done it well. But the airframes are growing old and within ten years they will have reached the end of their useable lifespan. A replacement is needed.
All of this I will grant you. To maintain our sovereignty as a nation, Canada has need of an air force. To patrol our borders (and we have so much border to patrol), to support our troops in their missions overseas (providing reconnaissance, close air support and air superiority if necessary) a replacement for the CF-18 is necessary. I will not argue this point.
But not the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II. For one thing, I would be shocked to learn that Lockheed Martin had EVER brought in a military contract on time and under budget. Whatever the cost we taxpayers are quoted, expect it to rise and balloon. If you don't believe me, consider the revelations back in fall about the military procurement process for Chinook helicopters (available here on CBC's website ). The F-35 is a single engine, limited payload and limited range multi-role aircraft. I am not a defense industry professional, nor am I a military pilot, but in my view the F-35 is entirely inadequate for Canadian needs.
One of the reasons for acquiring the CF-18 Hornet instead of the F-16 Fighting Falcon or one of its competitors was the use to which the RCAF intended to put it: long distance patrols, especially in the arctic where Canada needs to assert sovereignty. In a single-engined aircraft such as the F-16 or the F-35, engine trouble could be catastrophic and result in the loss of the plane and (likely enough, in the high arctic) the pilot as well. With a twin-engined fighter like the Hornet, the chances of being able to limp back to base are significantly better. Cheaper to repair a damaged aircraft than it is to have to buy a replacement AND train a new pilot, no?
The simple fact is that the procurement process for the CF-18 replacement has never been open and competitive. Without really thinking about it, I can name a half dozen alternatives to the F-35 (all of which are two engined and have similar or better performance and payload capacity): the Eurofighter Typhoon; the Dassault Rafale; the Super Hornet; the Sukhoi SU-30 or SU-35 Flanker derivatives; the Mikoyan Mig-35; the Russian/Indian PAK FA... how many is that? Why not license the SU-47 prototype that Russia built, have Bombardier and other companies manufacture it domestically and call it the "Archer"? I'll bet that would support a good few jobs and might even garner some export sales to boot.
Simply put, there are options. Ones that would better serve Canada's needs and ones that could well be cheaper for the taxpayers.
I sincerely hope that Stephen Harper's government is replaced and that whoever replaces him begins this process again in an open, honest and reasonable manner. Because expecting openness and honesty from the unreasonable Stephen Harper and his Conservatives is just not in the cards.
edit: fixed the link on the CH-47 & EH-101 helicopter procurement process.