In 1959, the Diefenbaker government scrapped the Avro Arrow project.
Today's federal government is being urged to revive it.
A Canadian company proposed an updated CF-105 Avro Arrow — revised with an updated engine — as an alternative to the purchase of 65 ultra-expensive American-made F-35 stealth fighter jets.
The proposal is being championed by one of Canada's top soldiers, retired Major General Lewis MacKenzie.
"This is not an exercise in nostalgia. This is an exercise in defence and industrial policy for Canada," MacKenzie told the Globe and Mail.
MacKenzie told the Global News program The West Block that the Arrow's design and platform still exceed those of other fighter jets and that the all-weather supersonic interceptor jet is perfect for Canada's current needs.
"It's an attack aircraft. It's designed for attacking ground targets and its stealth is most effective against short range radar, protecting ground targets," MacKenzie said.
"What we need in Canada is something that can go to the edge of our airspace, from a sovereignty point of view, and be able to catch up with intruders."
The proposal, originally introduced to Harper's Conservatives in 2010 and updated in 2012 suggests that the Avro Arrow can fly 20,000 feet higher than the F-35s, soar twice as fast and would cost less than the competition.
"Proponents of reviving the Arrow are shopping a proposal around Ottawa that promises 120 planes for $9-billion, a number that just happens to be the government's original cost estimate for the increasingly expensive F-35 jets," the Globe and Mail reports. "Each new CF-105, they say, would cost $73-million to produce — a homegrown solution that would also create a domestic supersonic jet manufacturing capacity."
The F-35 program has been estimated to cost $16 billion, but the auditor general and parliamentary budget officer argue the number would be closer to $25 billion for the 65 jets, the Canadian Press reports.
The proposal suggests that the made-in-Canada Avro Arrow project would also revitalize a Canadian aerospace industry that would produce thousands of jobs and add billions of dollars to the Canadian economy.
"The government of Canada is in a position to project foreign policy initiatives within the global community while simultaneously leading Canada's socio-economic capabilities to rise to real security, defence and industrial policy challenges at home and abroad," the proposal said.
In June, the government rejected the proposal, citing the risks and costs in developing the project would be too high and time-prohibitive — and claimed the Avro Arrow didn't meet the required technical specifications.
"Unfortunately, what is proposed is not a viable option for Canada's next generation fighter," said a letter from Julian Fantino, who was then Canada's associate minister for national defence, emphasizing unproven stealth capabilities, something the F-35s claim to have.
"The hoopla is stealth," Winslow Wheeler, a U.S. national security expert and former defence analyst in Washington, told The West Block. "But what stealth really means is that against some radars, at some angles, you are detectable at shorter ranges. And what that means, is that against some radars, at some angels, you are detectable at any range as soon as you come over the radar horizon."
Wheeler added that while stealth can provide a tactical advantage, it's a limited one that compromises the design of the aircraft — and is limited once weapons are attached to the body of the aircraft.
The plans for the F-35s remain on hold following the auditor general's findings last spring: the Department of National Defence hid $10 billion in continuing costs for the fighter.
MacKenzie told the Globe and Mail that backers are taking their proposal to Canadians to see if public pressure can influence the Harper government to more seriously consider the proposal.
Is it time we started seeking a homegrown solution for national protection again?