Whether trading speed for altitude or cost for capability, military aviation requires compromise. The current trend in United States airpower has been to acquire fewer aircraft with an emphasis on the ability to complete a wide variety of missions. Fifth generation aircraft such as the F-22 and F-35 further blur the lines of traditionally distinct roles such as air superiority and strike capability. The ability to succeed in this wide variety of missions comes at a very real price.This trade off between multiple missions and operating cost has come sharply into focus as coalition forces have launched repeated airstrikes against the Islamic State. This increased operational pace comes at a time that the number of planes available to the USAF is at an all-time low. This is not just an issue of budget sequestration and maintenance, but of acquisition. The USAF acquired more aircraft in the early 1950s than it did from 1956 to 2011.[i] The repeated delays in acquisition of the F-35 has left the United States in a tenuous position with regard to airpower readiness – a shrinking number of aging planes are required to conduct more strikes in a permissive environment at a high operating cost.
The question that confronts Canada in this environment is not which is the right fighter for our interests. The question is, “Does Canada realise that the strategic environment is no longer what it was?” The elephant may choose to roll over on the mouse just to make a point. The house might be firebombed from within, again, just to make a point. Canada’s careful, cold-nosed policies on “how little is enough” have become decidedly more difficult.