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CF-105 Avro Arrow - Demise

Less than a week after the Arrow's first flight, on 10 June 1957 the new Conservative Canadian government under Prime Minister John Diefenbaker took office. Diefenbaker, from the Canadian west, had campaigned on a platform for reining in what the Conservatives claimed was "rampant Liberal spending", though the Arrow was not the only major industrial project targeted during the campaign. The later half of 1957 witnessed a 6 percent decline in industrial production and growth of unemployment to 7.5 percent. The weak state of the Canadian economy since mid-1957 and the demand from Canadians for more comprehensive social programs brought pressure to defence funding. The Conservative government inherited from the outgoing Liberal administration a Canadian - American defence agenda containing a number of critical and contentious items. Diefenbaker soon cut the number of Arrows planned down to 100, escalating unit cost.

Only six Arrows were built before the project was cancelled by the Canadian government on 20 February 1959. The Defense White Paper Defence 1959, issued by the Conservative government with George R. Pearkes as Minister, canceled the ambitious CF-105 Arrow interceptor program, due to its costs higher than projected and shortcomings in performance. In the 1 CAD, the eight squadrons of F-86 were re-equipped with the CF-104 Starfighter built by Canadair, and dissolved completely the CF-100 squadrons. Furthermore, the role of the squadrons of 1 CAD changed from air defense to reconnaissance and tactical nuclear attack. In Canada, the nine squadrons of CF-100 were replaced by five squadrons of CF-101 Voodoo for continental air defense.

Within two months, five flying machines and a more powerful sixth, which had been within days of takeoff, were ordered reduced to scrap. Also, 31 others in various stages of assembly, along with all parts, drawings, accessories, blueprints and photographs were ordered destroyed, though who gave this order is unclear. It was consigned to the wrecker's torch after only two prototypes had flown and more than $400 million had been spent on it. That's nothing in the US, but it was quite a lot in Canada.

The cancellation of the Arrow began with the Liberals in 1957. The October 23, 1963 edition of the Montreal Star noted that "Gen. Charles Foulkes, chairman of the chiefs of staff committee from 1951 to 1960, testified yesterday that the Liberal Government of Prime Minister St. Laurent decided in 1957 it would cancel the Arrow interceptor program as soon as it was returned to power in that year's election." Plans for rebuilding the Liberal Party in the late 1950s focused on social policy, which proved to be the issue around which allegiances were formed within that political party.

But the cancellation is often blamed on John G. Diefenbaker, the controversial Conservative who held power from 1957. In October 1957 the Cabinet had approved continuation for another twelve months of the CF-105 development program, which included the ordering of 29 pre-production aircraft, improvements in tooling, acceleration of the development of the Iroquois engine, and the continuation of the necessary related programmes. In a project such as this there were two main phases; development and pre-production and, then, production for operational service. These overlapped, and by late 1958 the first was now well advanced and a decision was therefore urgently required as to whether or not to go into production.

The threat of long-range bombers from the Soviet Union, and subsequently intercontinental ballistic missiles, brought the potential for war to the continent of North America. One significant result was increased interaction between Canadian and American governments on defence issues. On 12 September 1957 the North American Air Defense Command (NORAD) was established with headquarters at Ent Air Force Base, CO. [Colorado Springs] Command-in-Chief, NORAD assigned operational control over Canadian and US air defense forces. CINCNORAD dual-hatted as Commander-in-Chief, CONAD [US joint command]. The formal NORAD agreement, signed on 12 May 1958, was the most visible evidence of this alignment. The NORAD agreement was in place to protect the American deterrent from a first strike, thus enhancing the credibility of American nuclear counter-strike capabilities.

Following a visit of the US President to Canada in July 1958, Canada took a number of actions with the understanding that her defense industry depended largely upon the US channeling defense business into Canada. Canada cancelled the CF-105 and related systems contracts; decided to make maximum use of US developed weapons, integrated into NORAD; and worked with the US toward a fully integrated continental air defense. The US in turn established a Production/Development Sharing Program with Canada with the first quarterly meeting in October 1958. Since Diefenbaker's Government continued the 1957 decision of the previous Government to cancel the Arrow program, this decision was not caused by anything that happened during the July 1958 visit by President Eisenhower.

During the first seven months of 1958, the prohibitive costs of the Arrow and the potential decline of the Soviet manned bomber threat clouded the future of the CF-105 production program. As late as 31 July 1958, Robert Bryce, the Clerk of the Privy Council and a trusted Diefenbaker advisor, informed the Prime Minister that the Arrow programme should be continued. Diefenbaker and Pearkes, however, in a decision reminiscent of their agreement to implement NORAD, privately decided to scrap the CF-105 following Pearkes' visit to Washington in the first week of August.

A good place to start looking to find out the truth about why the program was cancelled is to look at the minutes of Diefenbaker's Cabinet meetings of August 28th, 1958 record that "Finally, the cost of the CF-105 programme as a whole was now of such a magnitude that the Chiefs of Staff felt that, to meet the modest requirement of manned aircraft presently considered advisable, it would be more economical to procure a fully developed interceptor of comparable performance in the U.S."

At that time RCAF had nine all-weather squadrons and the present program called for their re-equipment with the CF-105, requiring a production order of 169 in number. These, together with aircraft recovered from the development and pre-production order for 37, would provide sufficient aircraft for nine squadrons. The original requirements in 1953 for between 500 and 600 aircraft of the CF-105 fighter had been drastically reduced. The total cost would have been $2 billion spread from 1959-60 to 1963-64.

Ultimately, the decision was made to continue the development programme for the Arrow until 31 March 1959. On 10 February 1959 the Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee reported to the Cabinet that "the Chiefs of Staff had reviewed the position concerning the production of the CF-105, and were still of the opinion that the changing threat and the rapid advances in technology, particularly in the missile field, along with the diminishing requirements for manned interceptors in Canada, created grave doubts as to whether a limited number of aircraft of such extremely high cost would provide defence returns commensurate with the expenditures."

When the Canadian government shut down the CF-105 Avro Arrow jet interceptor program, it put the cream of Canada's aerospace engineering talent out of work. More than 50,000 workers lost their jobs. Many of the Avro engineers had just arrived in Canada from Great Britain. A brand new organization called the National Aeronautics and Space Administration was charged with putting U.S. astronauts into space, and in 1959 it desperately needed engineering talent. Within ten weeks of the demise of the Arrow, 25 Avro engineers were working for NASA, and another seven joined them later. Other Avro engineers found work with the aerospace contractors that built spacecraft and boosters for NASA. A little more than 10 years later, U.S. astronauts were standing on the surface of the Moon in the climax of one of the greatest stories of technology and exploration in human history.

A group of over 100 Canadian and British aeronautical engineers, who had been employed on a fighter-plane project for the British A. V. Roe (AVRO) Company near Toronto, Canada, were out of work. AVRO tried to find new jobs for them when the CF-105 Arrow project was canceled as a result of the Commonwealth's decision that the Bomarc missile made the Arrow obsolescent. Twenty-five of these engineers, led by James A. Chamberlin, a Canadian, were recruited by STG and immigrated to work at NASA's Virginia colony in mid-April. They were assigned jobs as individuals with the existing teams wherever each could be most useful, and they quickly proved themselves invaluable additions to making Mercury move.

The wisdom of and motives behind its cancellation remain hotly debated. The facts in the case seem remarkably complicated. The Arrow program had begun as an airframe program only, into which was to be fitted an American or British engine, an American or British electronic system, and an American weapon system. In the expectation, but without any guarantee, that these vital components would be ready in time, the work on the CF-105 was put in hand. One after another the projects fell through, and one after another the Canadian Government got itself first into the electronic business and then in the engine business, and then in the weapon ~ system business, so that at the end of it the Canadian Government was faced with the job of producing the whole thing.

There was a further miscalculation involving the number of reserve pilots who could be trained to handle the equipment, and the RCAF discovered belatedly that it could use only 100 instead of 400 as had been envisaged. At that time it was discovered that neither the United States nor the United Kingdom, nor any other NATO country, had any interest at all in buying the Arrow for its own Air Force. Had the Soviet Union itself come along with an offer at this time, one wag suggested Canada would have sold it to them. But there was no offer of any kind, and the Diefenbaker Government inherited the mess and decided to cut and scrap the whole thing.

The Arrow debacle forced upon Canada an agonized reappraisal of its role in defense production for the West. If, as their spokesmen now have conceded, major weapon systems have become too costly for independent Canadian development, then it was all the more important that Canadian industry be able to compete for contracts in the United States on terms that would not discriminate against them just because they were Canadian and foreign.

Smaller countries can lead the world in certain select areas if they choose. At the same time, a smaller military must beware of the pitfalls when attempting large complete systems. The larger the system, no matter how technologically innovative or advanced they may be initially, the larger the risk of failure. The AVRO ARROW and BOBCAT APC projects are prime examples. But Canada's Arrow venture was not unique. Attempts to develop jet aircraft by Argentina, India and Egypt in the 1950s and 1960s also failed, for similar reasons. Lavi, a supersonic fighter developed in Israel, met the same fate in 1988, after an expenditure of over $1.5 billion.

The Arrow was a two-part series starring Dan Aykroyd as Crawford Gordon. It co-starred Sara Botsford, Michael Ironside, Michael Moriarity and Christopher Plummer. It was shot in Winnipeg, Man. and featured a scale replica of the Arrow built in Wetaskiwin, Alta. by sales estimator Allan Jackson. It was broadcast on Jan. 12 and 13, 1997. The movie's "docudrama" format was generally well received, but irritated some viewers who wanted greater historical accuracy.

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Page last modified: 09-07-2011 02:35:04 ZULU