U.S., Canadian Defense Leaders Call F-35 Crucial

HALIFAX, Nova Sco­tia — Call­ing it cru­cial to the defense of North Amer­i­ca, Defense Sec­re­tary Leon E. Panet­ta and Cana­di­an Defense Min­is­ter Peter G. MacK­ay today empha­sized that both nations are com­mit­ted to devel­op­ing the F-35 joint strike fight­er.

.S. Defense Sec­re­tary Leon E. Panet­ta, right, and Cana­di­an Defense Min­is­ter Peter MacK­ay hold a press con­fer­ence to open the Hal­i­fax Inter­na­tion­al Secu­ri­ty Forum in Hal­i­fax, Nova Sco­tia, Nov. 18, 2011. Panet­ta and MacK­ay field­ed ques­tions regard­ing pos­si­ble U.S. bud­get cuts to the F-35 strike fight­er and its impend­ing impact on Cana­da.
DOD pho­to by Erin A. Kirk-Cuo­mo
Click to enlarge

At a news con­fer­ence here in con­junc­tion with the Hal­i­fax Inter­na­tion­al Secu­ri­ty Forum, the defense lead­ers said bud­get pres­sures should not stand in the way of field­ing the next-gen­er­a­tion fight­er jet. Panet­ta said he’s seen media reports that the Unit­ed States is not com­mit­ted to the joint strike fight­er.

“Let me make very clear that the Unit­ed States is com­mit­ted to the devel­op­ment of the F-35, and to a coop­er­a­tive rela­tion­ship with the F-35 with our Cana­di­an friends,” he said. “The F-35 is going to be an essen­tial fight­er that will help in [the North Amer­i­can Aero­space Defense Com­mand] and will be the future in help­ing us with secu­ri­ty chal­lenges that we face.”

Despite loom­ing bud­get cuts, Panet­ta said, the F-35’s capa­bil­i­ties are essen­tial.

“I feel very con­fi­dent that we’ll get fund­ing for the F-35 pro­gram,” he said. “This is the fight­er plane for the future, and in some ways, we real­ly have no alter­na­tive. This is the plane that is going to be able to pro­vide the tech­nol­o­gy [and] the capa­bil­i­ties for the future.

“We need to have this [air­craft],” Panet­ta con­tin­ued. “It’s true for us. It’s true for our part­ners — not only Cana­di­ans, but oth­ers — who are going to work with us and par­tic­i­pate with us in the devel­op­ment of the F-35.”

Mak­ing bud­get deci­sions involves look­ing for sav­ings, the sec­re­tary said, cit­ing areas such as pro­cure­ment reform.

“But we also have to look at areas where we con­tin­ue to invest in the future, and the F-35 is one of those areas,” he added.

MacK­ay said the “eye-water­ing tech­nol­o­gy aboard the F-35” is why Cana­da has cho­sen to par­tic­i­pate in the pro­gram.

“It’s the abil­i­ty to dom­i­nate and own the air­space over con­ti­nen­tal North Amer­i­ca,” he said. “There is no fifth-gen­er­a­tion air­craft oth­er than the F-35 avail­able to Cana­da and the Unit­ed States, so all of the hypo­thet­i­cal dis­cus­sions — and quite neg­a­tive dis­cus­sions, quite frankly — about this pro­gram are real­ly just clat­ter and noise.

“This pro­gram is going ahead,” he con­tin­ued. “Clear­ly, bud­getary pres­sures are going to lead to spec­u­la­tion. We are deal­ing with our bud­gets, as all coun­tries are deal­ing with this bud­get, but we are not waver­ing on our com­mit­ment to this pro­gram.”

Every defense depart­ment has cer­tain pil­lars, MacK­ay said.

“This is one of those pil­lars: hav­ing the abil­i­ty to pro­tect your sov­er­eign­ty. And there is a direct link — a direct link — between our nation­al sov­er­eign­ty and our abil­i­ty to pro­tect our air­space,” he said.

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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