Fighter Jets Useless against Real Security Threats

“It’s never enough” said former Prime Minister Jean Chrétien about military spending. “They always want more.” ((Jay Hill, in the House of Commons,  quoting then Prime Minister  Jean Chrétien from an article by Stephanie Rubec in the Ottawa Sun, October 20, 2003.))

Canada shouldn’t spend huge sums on 88 new fighter jets incapable of protecting the population against pressing security threats. The warplanes will simply strengthen Canada’s powerful, offensive air force.

Amidst a pandemic and climate crisis the security argument for spending $19 billion – $77 billion over their life cycle – on fighter jets is extremely weak. New warplanes won’t protect against climate induced disasters or new viruses. Worse still, purchasing heavy carbon emitting fighter jets diverts resources away from dealing with these genuine security threats.

But we require these warplanes to protect Canada, say the militarists. In fact, many countries don’t have fighter jets. More than 30 nations, including Costa Rica, Iceland and Panama, don’t have an active military force at all while Ireland hasn’t had fighter jets for two decades. Nor has New Zealand, but the militarists who demand Canada follow its “Five Eyes” counterparts won’t mention that.

Nor do they discuss how Canada’s free trade partner Mexico has no operational fighter jets. Doesn’t that country face a similar menace from the Russians or Chinese? The Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) is far better equipped than its counterpart in Mexico, a country with more than twice Canada’s population.

RCAF has about 90 operational CF-18s. It is one of the better warplanes and will remain a top-tier fighter jet for many years to come. RCAF is about the 16th best equipped air force in the world. But Canada is the 39th most populous state. Should Canadians spend lavishly to maintain an air force far better equipped than this country’s relative population size?

Considering the resources required to mitigate the climate crisis and pandemic why not simply maintain the CF-18s and when the RCAF’s standing approaches Canada’s share of the global population consider purchasing new fighter jets. If the RCAF were designed to defend Canada that would be the sensible approach. But that is not, in fact, its purpose. The RCAF is structured primarily to support the US war machine.

Canada’s air force says CF-18s intercept 6-7 aircraft each year in Canada’s Air Defence Identification Zone, which is 100-200 nautical miles from its coastline. (Canada’s territorial airspace is 12 nautical miles from the coastline.) By comparison, notes Brent Patterson, Canada’s CF-18s have conducted 1600 offensive bombing missions over the past 30 years in Iraq, Yugoslavia, Syria and Libya.

While the military tightly controls news during fighter jet missions, some information has trickled out about what happens when these planes drop bombs from the sky. Pentagon documents suggest CF-18s were responsible for a January 2015 air strike in Iraq that killed as many as 27 civilians. The RCAF claimed it had “no obligation”, reported the internal US documents, “to conduct an investigation” of the incident. In October 2015 the CBC also reported, “Canadian fighter planes have now been connected to a second airstrike in Iraq that has been reviewed by the Pentagon for possible civilian casualties.” In another incident, a CF-18 reportedly killed 10 and injured 20 Iraqi civilians on November 19, 2015.

In 2011 seven Canadian CF-18 fighter jets dropped at least 700 bombs on Libyan targets. Two months into the bombing United Press International reported that Ottawa “ordered 1,300 replacement laser-guided bombs to use in its NATO mission in Libya” and a month later they ordered another 1,000 bomb kits. A number of coalition members placed strict restrictions on their forces’ ability to strike ground targets. These and other countries’ militaries frequently “red carded” sorties, declaring that they would not contribute. “With a Canadian general in charge” of the NATO bombing campaign, explained the Globe and Mail, “Canada couldn’t have red-carded missions even if it wanted to, which is why Canadian CF-18 pilots often found themselves in the most dangerous skies” doing the dirtiest work.

CBC.ca reported that on March 29, 2011, two CF-18s launched strikes that directly aided the Jihadist rebels in Misrata and on May 19 Canadian jets participated in a mission that destroyed eight Libyan naval vessels. On their return to Canada, CBC.ca reported: “[pilot Maj. Yves] Leblanc’s crew carried out the final mission on the day Gaddafi was captured, and were flying 25,000 feet over when Gaddafi’s convoy was attacked.” Human Rights Watch found the remains of at least 95 people at the site where Muammar Gaddafi was captured. According to the human rights group, a sizable number “apparently died in the fighting and NATO strikes prior to Gaddafi’s capture” with multiple dozens were also executed by close range gunshot wounds. Some accused NATO forces of helping to murder Gaddafi.

In the spring of 1999 eighteen CF-18s dropped 532 bombs in 678 sorties during NATO’s bombing of Serbia. About two thousand died during NATO’s bombing. Hundreds of thousands were internally displaced and hundreds of thousands were made refugees in a war that contravened international law.

Two dozen CF-18s were deployed to Iraq in 1990. Among few other coalition members, Canadian fighter jets engaged in combat. They joined US and British counterparts in destroying most of Iraq’s hundred plus naval vessels in what was dubbed the “Bubiyan Turkey Shoot.” Coalition bombing destroyed much of Iraq’s civilian infrastructure. The country’s electricity production was largely demolished as were sewage treatment plants, telecommunications equipment, oil refineries, etc. Twenty thousand Iraqi troops and thousands of civilians were killed. The UN resolution allowed for attacks against Iraqi establishments in Kuwait while the US-led forces bombed across Iraq in what Mark Curtis described as the open “rehabilitation of colonialism and imperialism.”

Buying 88 new fighter jets has little to do with protecting Canadians. It’s about funneling public resources to arms firms and strengthening the Royal Canadian Air Force’s capacity to fight in offensive US and NATO wars. Is this really how we should be spending public resources? If the government was truly concerned about security, it would spend the money on public/co-op housing, cleaning up ecological devastation and preparing for the next pandemic.

Yves Engler is the author of 12 books. His latest is Stand on Guard For Whom? — A People’s History of the Canadian Military.  Read other articles by Yves.