Analysis: New Stage in Public Relations War Over F-35 Jets

Friday meeting in Ottawa will be part of what is being called the Global Mobilization to Stop Lockheed Martin, manufacturer of the F-35.

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Members of the Ottawa Peace Council will head to Lockheed Martin Canada’s headquarters on O’Connor Street Friday to protest the Liberal government’s decision to buy that company’s F-35 stealth fighter.

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The meeting is part of what is being called the Global Mobilization to Stop Lockheed Martin, a series of at least nine protests in various cities around the world to highlight the company’s role as the world’s largest arms producer.

The F-35 is expected to feature prominently at the various protests, including in Toronto, as the public relations war over the jet enters a new phase.

The Liberal government announced on March 28 that it would enter into negotiations to buy the fighter jet, backing off Justin Trudeau’s promise that Canada would never buy the plane it claimed didn’t work and was unnecessary.

In the lead up to the proposed $19 billion deal, there has been dueling on social media and in mainstream news outlets.

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Social activist groups have webcasts to advance their claim that the F-35 will be a money pit for taxpayers. They have raised concerns from US lawmakers, including those of March 2021 when Adam Smith, head of the US House of Representatives Armed Services Committee, called for the F-35 program to be halted. The plane “doesn’t work particularly well” and is too expensive to maintain, he noted. “I want to stop throwing money into that particular rathole,” Smith said.

The Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom argues that the money would be better spent elsewhere to help Canadians. For example, it noted that the $19 billion could fund 15 state-of-the-art healthcare complexes; or 760 indigenous wellness centers; or 240 new high schools; or 130 kilometers of light rail transit; or 87,842 green affordable housing.

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Lockheed Martin has run its own PR campaign to promote the industrial benefits of the new jets. A recent CBC TV piece highlighted how the city of Nova Scotia that was involved in the construction of the famed Bluenose schooner is now home to a company that manufactures F-35 parts. Canadian analysts closely associated with National Defense have promoted the plane as a high-tech “flying computer,” which once had major technical problems but now works flawlessly.

Also firmly in the F-35 camp is former Lockheed Martin test pilot Billie Flynn. Flynn, who left the company in October 2020, is promoting Lockheed’s business talking points mixed with conspiracy-fuelled rhetoric. A Quebec journalist writing in favor of the Super Hornet, the F-35’s rival, produced a “defective article” and was “bought off,” Flynn claimed.

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Flynn claimed that a former Liberal MP involved in the jet fighter dossier was “in bed” with Boeing, but has provided no evidence. The test pilot also suggested that Lockheed’s rival Saab engaged in bribery, hinting – with no evidence – that this could have taken place in Canadian jet competition.

Flynn ignored Lockheed Martin’s past bribery scandals. Lockheed engaged in bribery in Egypt, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Saudi Arabia and Germany to win contracts for military aircraft in the 1960s and 1970s, according to CorpWatch, a US research group that exposes corporate crimes. For example, Lockheed Aircraft Corporation lost a $1.3 billion order for new aircraft because of its involvement in a payout scandal, Japanese government officials told the New York Times in February 1976.

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As a result of the scandals, the company’s chairman and president resigned and the US government enacted the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, a law that made it illegal for US companies and officials to bribe representatives of foreign governments.

This newspaper, Flynn claims, was promoting a conspiracy when it correctly reported that Lockheed could face the same “economic damage” fines as rival Boeing could have suffered under the Liberal government’s new procurement policy.

The next step in the F-35 PR battle will focus on selling the aircraft to the public using the threat from Russia and China. Some analysts have already pointed to the need for the F-35 to fend off an alleged coming Russian invasion of the Canadian Arctic.

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In addition, the Liberal government has used Russia’s invasion of Ukraine to justify the purchase of a fighter jet. Flynn has claimed that the F-35 was designed for the kind of war that is now being fought in Ukraine.

But Dan Grazier, an F-35 critic with the US Project on Government Oversight, has written that the Russians need not worry much about the stealth fighter. To make his point, Grazier cited an internal Pentagon report warning of repeated F-35 failures and a lack of spare parts. †Despite more than 20 years and about $62.5 billion so far spent on research and development alone, program officials have still failed to deliver an aircraft that can fly as many times as needed or maintain its ability to fly. demonstrate performance in combat, putting military personnel at risk,” Grazier wrote in a report for POGO last month.

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