Homegrown hellfire

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Retired Maj. Gen. Lewis Mackenzie is leading the charge for an alternative to the troubled F-35 jet procurement program: Bring back the Avro Arrow (http://news.nationalpost.com/2012/09/09/avro-arrow-redesign-pitched-as-alternative-to-f-35-stealth-fighter-jets/).

The Diefenbaker-era military jet program was terminated before a single plane was made. But that hasn’t stopped decades of nostalgia for the alternative future that could have been.

“The greatest fighter ever – decades ahead of its time!”

And perhaps it was. But 50 years ahead of its time?

We doubt it. And we doubt the numbers being thrown around: $73 million per unit for an aircraft that would need to be built from the ground up.

That doesn’t mean there isn’t a good idea here, though.

The Canadian military needs a fighter jet capability. Regardless of our involvement in overseas missions, we have a vast country with a virtually empty northern frontier. If we have any intention of enforcing our own sovereignty, we need high-speed aircraft capable of covering huge expanses quickly to intercept foreign planes.

The current price tag for the F-35s is $16 billion. Mackenzie and crew are selling the Arrow as a cheaper option. Even if it were just as expensive – even if it was a little more expensive – keeping those kinds of dollars in Canada would be a massive boom for our aerospace industry. It simply makes no sense to let that money leave our country.

Most fighter craft are developed by large nations or consortiums of nations. But there are exceptions. Sweden, with a much smaller population than Canada, spearheaded development and production of the Gripen fighter, for example.

MacKenzie is a smart man. Our guess is he’s pushing the Arrow angle because it ramps up public interest – it’s a play to patriotism. The Arrow will never fly. But a modern, Canadian-made jet fighter, dubbed ‘Arrow’ as a nod to history, may. We’ll go one step further, though. Instead of focusing exclusively on a fighter that was ‘decades ahead of its time’ in 1959, let’s consider making an airborne vehicle that’s decades ahead of its time right now: buy (relatively) inexpensive, foreign fourth-generation fighters as a stop-gap, and domestically develop remote-piloted, supersonic ‘Arrow’ drones.

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