August 20, 2019 |
With the election looming, the Liberal government has set in motion, at least on paper, its commitment to consider bids for the purchase of new fighter jets. Of course, how committed the government is to move ahead on its renewed commitment remains to be seen.
Meanwhile, any Canadian truly committed to seeing a modern, well-equipped RCAF, supported by a capable military procurement program, should take special note of one of the top contenders to replace Canada's aging fleet of fighters: Sweden.
This non-aligned country, approximately the size of Newfoundland and Labrador, with a population only slightly larger than that of Quebec, has not only succeeded in developing generations of fighter jets, but has seen impressive success in exporting them.
Apart from Sweden, Saab's JAS 39 Gripen, the latest version released in 2016, is being used by the Czech Republic and Hungary within NATO. The governments of Brazil, South Africa and Thailand are also purchasing the aircraft. Other countries such as India, Botswana, Indonesia and the Philippines are seriously considering the Gripen.
But instead of fretting about how much Canada's aging fighters stand to potentially be outdone by the air forces of the developing world, we should instead look squarely at how Sweden came to be a serious contender to arm and equip this country's emaciated airforce.
We should instead look squarely at how Sweden came to be a serious contender to arm and equip this country's emaciated airforce.
The answer lies in the national mindset of the two countries. Unlike Canada, and especially when it comes to defence, Sweden refuses to allow itself to fall into dependency status vis-à-vis Europe, NATO or any other military power. In other words, while they actively cooperate with NATO in the defence of Europe, they make it clear that the defence of Sweden is first and foremost a Swedish responsibility. It is why the Swedish army, navy and airforce use high-tech equipment, much of which is built by the Swedes themselves. It is why the Swedes supplement their advanced military technology with elaborate defence-in-depth war plans and civil defence policies. The manual, “If crisis or war comes,” has been recently mailed to every household in Sweden.
By contrast, we Canadians have chosen a quasi-colonial mindset with respect to our defence, clearly reflected in our epically embarrassing procurement shortcomings and failures. For the last 60 years, beginning with the cancellation of the Avro Arrow, Canada has been falling into a pattern of dependency on the United States on all matters related to defence. Sweden, on the other hand, has remained committed to designing and developing much its own military aircraft, ships, submarines and army equipment.
In the mid-1950s, both Canada and Sweden were working independently on their own advanced fighter aircraft. While Canada was working on the Arrow, the Swedish military and engineers were hard at work on the Draken, which came out the same year. The Draken had a similar delta wing design to the Arrow and was the first European-built fighter jet to break the sound barrier.
But that is where the comparison ends; the two countries went on very different paths with respect to their airforces. Canada cancelled and destroyed its Arrow aircraft and took on second-rate Voodoo fighters from the United States. It is what we Canadians wanted, as no successive Conservative or Liberal government has since tried to “bring back the Arrow.”
Sweden aggressively continued development of new fighter technology, replacing the Draken with the Viggen in the 1970s, while Canada continued to try to squeeze more life out of our then-aging fighter jets. In the 1980s, as Canada was finally taking on the U.S built F-18, Sweden was working on the first version of the modern Gripen.
Of course, as had been well documented, the early Gripen had problems. But as with the Draken and Viggen, the Swedes, unlike Canada, stayed with their national fighter jet.
Today, Canada can only dream what our military aircraft industry might have been like in 2019 if then-prime minister John Diefenbaker, with the tacit support of the opposition Liberals, had not cancelled the Arrow, accelerating our descent into military dependency on the United States and national impotence on military procurement.