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The Cancellation of the Avro Arrow

The success of the Avro Arrow was unique and groundbreaking for Canada, and its ultimate cancellation lead to many questions and speculation as to why the program was prematurely halted. The declassification of government documents has shed some new light on the events leading up to the cancellation of the Avro project; however; it is a legacy that will endure. The charges and countercharges regarding the decision are as diverse as life itself.

This paper delves into the issues and the processes that surrounded Diefenbaker during the period in which he was contemplating the continuation or cancellation of the Avro Arrow project, the implications this would have on his government and the factors that led to his ultimate decision. It would appear on the surface that when Prime Minister Diefenbaker won the election in June 1957 and took control of a government and a country it was in a time of relative peace and stability.

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Overall, there was a strong economic outlook and high morale within the general population. In fact, what Diefenbaker found was that the defense budget had escalated well beyond any reasonable figure, and there were insurmountable management challenges particularly with communication issues surrounding the Avro Arrow project. These pre-existing conditions, compounded with the change in power, and new government mandates, was the direct hit that took out the Avro Arrow program and led to its cancellation and eventual destruction.

Following the end of World War II, a new source of conflict was at the forefront of government decision making. Political leaders were cautiously observing the escalation of tension between the United States of America and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics into what is known as the Cold War. As an ally of the U. S. , Canada was keenly aware that its security was strongly linked to the security of its superpower neighbour. During this post-war period, Canada experienced economic booms with a significant portion of the federal budget going to military expenditures.

Within this military spending, significant energy and finances were targeted towards the Avro Arrow program. Not long after the Second World War, government contracted company A. V. Roe developed the CF100 as a long range aircraft designed for home defense. This aircraft turned out to be very successful and over 692 were built, including 53 which were put into service and sold to the government of Belgium. The CF100 had a triumphant service record of over 30 years, contributing to defense with NATO in Europe as well as service in Canada. The CF103, or Avro Arrow, was oing to be the replacement for the CF100, and the new supersonic interceptor aircraft would be more advanced than any previous technology known to date. The program was using state-of-the-art technology with the goal to advance security defenses for North America from any possible attacks from the U. S. S. R. The United States was developing defense strategies for possible attacks to North America via the Arctic. The Avro Arrow was part of Canada’s contributions to continental security measures, and its design requirements were to meet these possible threats.

These aircraft were designed to operate either independently or integrated into an overall defense system, and “the Arrow was to be the delivery part of a weapons system intended to intercept and destroy a high speed bomber invading the northern part of North America. The total system included the aircraft, airborne fire control systems and weapons and a ground based radar and communication system”. Prior to the creation of the program, Canada was embarking on a military buildup to counter the Cold War threat of Communism. The Liberal government at the time, under the leadership of Prime Minister Louis St.

Laurent, was increasing defense and military spending for the country. In fact, during this time of spending, “defense had become the single biggest industry in Canada,” and the Avro Arrow program became one of the biggest budget items in the department’s activities. The development of the Avro Arrow through A. V. Roe Canada was shepherded by C. D. Howe. Howe was appointed Minister of Munitions and Supplies in 1935, which gave him considerable power throughout the course of World War II. This power continued throughout the St.

Laurent Liberal government and, when Howe set up the Avro Arrow program, it was common practice for projects by A. V. Roe Canada to be approved by the government without significant review. This, in turn, led the management and leadership at A. V. Roe to form a corporate culture where it was expected for Ottawa to simply rubber stamp any request for approval, no matter the costs involved. The defeat of Prime Minister Laurent and his Liberal government in June 1957 marked a transition point in the relationship between the Canadian government and A. V. Roe Canada.

The election of the Conservative Party certainly came as a surprise, as “even on the eve of the election the New York Times said ‘it would take a political miracle’ to defeat the Liberals”. (footnote) During the early years of Diefenbaker’s administration, the economic outlook for the country was strong, with growth in almost every sector, a low unemployment rate, and household incomes increasing. There was a general feeling of prosperity in Canada, and Finance Minister Douglas Abbott “delivered an upbeat budget, projecting a surplus for the fourth straight year and reducing income taxes of Canadians by a quarter of a billion dollars. However, while this euphoria was shared by most Canadians, the inner workings of the Cabinet were facing some greater, and less carefree, challenges. Prime Minister John Diefenbaker took over not only the Avro Arrow program but a military defense department that had grown significantly in size throughout the tenure of St. Laurent. In order for Diefenbaker to implement social policies and other platform initiatives, it was necessary for the Conservative minority government to get better control of defense spending in the country.

Defense spending had continued to grow and eventually lurched out of control until “defense expenditures had spiraled to $2. 1 billion, in a national budget of $4. 376 billion. ” With an alternative of the country facing bankruptcy, it was apparent to Minister Abbott that the defense spending would have to come to an immediate halt. Previously, the control of the massive amount of spending had been in the hands of the Minister of Defense rather than in the control of the Minister of Finance.

As Story and Isinger comment, “in Canada it soon produced the anomalous situation where the Minister of National Defense rather than the Finance Minister was in effect dictating the nation’s finances”. Moreover, within the budget for the department, the Avro project was the primary target of spending. According to Julius Lukasiewicz, the “cost estimate for forty aircraft (including development) rose from $118 million in 1954 to $298 million a year later” , and with no signs of cost estimates regressing, the Avro Arrow program was en route to draining the national budget.

As Historians Bothwell and Kilborn discovered “Howe had himself intended to scrap the famous Avro Arrow after the 1957 election (and refused to condemn Diefenbaker for doing so). ” These financial challenges were not aided by the fact that the relationship between the leadership at A. V. Roe and the Canadian federal government strained when the Conservatives came to power. Gone were the days when the top management team there had free access to the government cabinet ministers. Fred Smye, son of former Liberal cabinet minister and Vice-President of A.

V. Roe Canada, also knew that something was wrong: The Conservatives now had the run of things, and he could no longer simply pick up the phone and speak to Ottawa directly. His access to information had changed dramatically, that every time a major article on the Arrow appeared in a newspaper or magazine, Smye would immediately contact the writer to see if the writer might know something that he didn’t. Working with a board of directors can sometimes prove advantageous with inside connections.

However, that was not the case at A. V. Roe Canada, because all but one of the board members were Liberals. The lone conservative was John Tory, the company’s legal advisor, he was able to provide limited ties to Ottawa. At one point after a meeting with Prime Minister Diefenbaker, Tory returned to advise Fred Smye that the Avro Arrow project was in jeopardy. Additionally, the Avro Plant was located in the riding of Peel, which was represented in Parliament by John C. Pallet.

Pallet was the Conservative Party whip in caucus and developed a close friendship with Diefenbaker. Often, Pallet became the Prime Minister’s unofficial advisor on issues relating to the Avro Arrow. While Diefenbaker had official sources, through Pallet he felt that he was receiving unfiltered information and welcomed this source: We didn’t deal with the company officials: the people I was interested in were the shop stewards and the guys on the floor. I knew many of the them on a first name basis more than I knew the top echelons.

It was absolutely foolproof because it gave me the total picture. It wasn’t what I wanted to hear however; I wanted to hear this was a superb aircraft and I found it wasn’t as superb and this was very disturbing to me. There was certainly a breakdown in communication and trust between the government and A. V. Roe as the contracted supplier for the program, much of which could be attributed to the uncooperative mindset of management of A. V. Roe. The Avro Arrow program was initiated by the St. Laurent Liberal government.

Moreover, a significant majority of the management team for the program were Liberal supporters who were unsatisfied with the new relationship with the Conservative government. The upper management was accustomed to getting its requests easily approved when there was a Liberal government in Ottawa, and was often unwilling to answer questions or deal with issues of accountability for the new Canadian government. In October of 1957, the Soviets launched Sputnik I, a feat that stunned the Western World and catapulted the U. S. S. R. as a contender for the First World title against the United States.

The U. S. had yet to launch a space satellite, and the unexpected advances of the Soviet space program certainly made the Western power aware of its short-coming. The Americans were determined not to be out-done yet again; however, the development of the Canadian Avro Arrow program certainly left this opportunity open. The United States Air Force was very interested in the development of the Canadian long-range interceptor. It had been working on developing an interceptor of its own, but nowhere near as advanced as of the Avro Arrow.

Furthermore, with this severe breakdown of communication, it was difficult for the Conservative government to ascertain a full picture of what the cost of the Avro Arrow program, the value of it, or even determining how far developed and viable it was. While many criticize Diefenbaker of not being forward thinking, or lacking consideration of the future technological advancements, when it came to his choices regarding the Avro Arrow program, the Conservative government was receiving little information about the program, and what they were told often came from lower level employees instead of top management or the engineering team.

A culture of arrogance and overconfidence had developed at A. V. Roe during the Liberal government and this made it very difficult for Diefenbaker to obtain valid and vital information about the program when it was critical to make meaningful and timely decisions on the matter. Ultimately, it was the overwhelming continually escalating cost of the Avro Arrow project and military spending expenditures, compounded with the lack of information forthcoming from A. V.

Roe Canada itself, which led Diefenbaker to ask the Americans for their assessment of the Avro Arrow and its viability for the future, as a military defense plane: The American Team was told by the RCAF that increasing cost had led to the reappraisal of the project, that the defense budget was limited, and that, therefore, continuation could lead to the elimination of other desirable programmes. The USAF was requested to provide an opinion as the ‘essentiality of the 105 Project to the defense of North America and was asked flat out if it would abandoned the program under similar circumstances.

At the time, American officials were still dealing with the recent launch of Sputnik and the consequential perception of inferiority to the U. S. S. R. Therefore, it was not in the best interests of the United States to be surpassed once again, and this time by the Avro plane, which they knew to be far more advanced than their own developments. Therefore, recommending the program to be shut down would remove the possibility of being over passed once again by the superior interceptor.

In addition, ending the Avro Arrow program would leave Canada with a necessity to purchase military armaments elsewhere, and the United States was in a very good position to fill this market need with their own developments. Therefore, it was somewhat inevitable for the U. S. , like any other country in its position, to base its recommendation with the parameters of its own national interests. In fact, after the U. S. team evaluated, tested and analyzed the Arrow, it admitted that nothing it was working on currently would come close to meeting the Arrow’s specifications.

However, a short-range and a medium-range aircraft were under development, and the long-range LR-1X1 and LR 1X2 would meet the demands of an interceptor. Essentially, the message received from the Americans was that while their aircraft did not quite measure up to the specifications of the Arrow, the cost would be significantly less, and performance on a defense perspective would not be compromised, when augmented with an unmanned ground defense system, such as the Bomarc missiles.

The decision to cancel the Avro Arrow program did not come lightly for Diefenbaker and his government. The government cabinet ministers languished over how such an unpopular decision would be interpreted by the Canadian public. The Avro Arrow had gained a great deal of popular press and had become a symbol of national pride. There would be thousands affected by the cancellation, thrown into a state of unemployment. The members of parliament feared the implications such a decision would have on their own political future.

A decision was finally reached in September 1958, paving the way for the full cancellation of the Avro Arrow program: “Deifenbaker announced that two Bomarc-B bases would be built, and eventually cost-shared on a one-third Canadian, two-thirds American basis. ” This cooperative agreement with the Americans on the development of the SAGE-Bomarc system was a surface-to-air missile system, which would be capable of shooting down Soviet attacks over Canadian airspace in the far north in areas of little opulation. With costs in the defense budget escalating, this was one way to control expenditures and still protect the nation against threat from Soviet attack: The quid pro quo for the cancellation of the Arrow and the acceptance of the new missile system was Canadian access to the lucrative U. S. arms market – they could now become sub-contractors for U. S. weapons systems. On February 20, 1959, Prime Minister Diefenbaker addressed the House of Commons with the following statement: Mr.

Speaker, with the leave of the House I should like to make a somewhat lengthy statement on the subject of one facet of the national defense of Canada…The government has carefully examined and reexamined the probable need for the Arrow aircraft and Iroquois engine known as the CF-105…. The conclusion arrived at is that the development of the Arrow aircraft should be terminated now. The announcement made headlines throughout the country, and the day became know as Black Friday.

An event of this significance burned an indelible imprint of most Canadians memories. In addition, the order to destroy all traces of the supersonic aircraft resulted in stories of conspiracies and incompetent leadership that endure to this day. With those words and the decision to cancel the program, there came a powerful force that directly changed the lives of the 14,000 employees, with A. V. Roe Canada and another 11,000 employees directly affected through their employment subcontracting supplies for the Arrow program.

While today there is discussion of the “Brain Drain”, where by some of our most talented individuals leave our nation to work in the United States or elsewhere, in the case of the Avro Arrow cancellation, many of the most talented engineers went to the United States. Many accepted offers to work at National Aeronautics and Space Association (N. A. S. A. ) on their space program, and their departure certainly left a deficit of knowledge in Canada. Examining the events preceding the cancellation of the Avro Arrow, it is evident that multiple factors contributed to the final decision in this matter.

There was a significant breakdown in the relationship between the federal government and the management at A. V. Roe after the Conservatives defeated the Liberals in the 1957 election. The Liberal-dominated board was not cooperative and forthcoming with information about the cost and development of the program, armed with the information available, Prime Minister Diefenbaker made the decision he thought best for the country. There had become a weapons acquisition system perpetuated by an overly ambitious and confident Minister of Munitions and Supplies that gained a life of its own while St Laurent was in government.

By the time Diefenbaker inherited the project, he was dealing with a program that was not effective, according to an assessment by American counterparts, and a program that drained funds from other initiatives that were more in line with the Conservatives’ platform and mandates. While the Avro Arrow was an aircraft with overwhelming technological advancements, without the proper communication of its significance for the country and the world, it was relegated to history with its demise. Should I go into the what if’s????? rivate sector use…. Catapulting Canada into the world leaders in aerospace technology and advancement…. R&D etc…. Bibliography Campagna, Palmiro. Storms of Controversy: The Secret Avro Arrow Files Revealed, Toronto: Stoddart Publishing, 1992. Lukasiewicz, Julius. “Canada’s Encounter with High-Speed Aeronautics” Technology and Culture, Vol. 27, No. 2 (Apr. , 1986). Muirhead, Bruce. Dancing around the Elephant: Creating a Prosperous Canada in an Era of American Dominance 1957-1973, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2007.

Peden, Murray. Fall of an Arrow, Toronto:Stoddart Publishing, 1978. Robinson, Basil. Diefenbaker’s World: A Populist in Foreign Affairs, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1989. Shaw George, The Legend of the Arrow, http://dewit. ca/archs/avro_shaw/index. html, Retrieved, October 13, 2008. Stewart, Greig. Shutting down the National Dream: A. V. Roe and the Tragedy of the Avro Arrow, Toronto: McGraw –Hill Ryerson, 1997. Story, D. C. and, Bruce Shepard. ds The Diefenbaker Legacy: Canadian Politics, Law and Society Since 1957 Canadian Plains Research Center: University of Regina, Diefenbaker Canada Centre: University of Saskatchewan, 1998. Story, Donald, and Russell Isinger, eds. “The Origins of Cancellation of Canada’s Avro CF-105 Arrow Fighter Program: A Failure of Strategy,” The Journal of Strategic Studies Vol. 30 No. 6 1025-1050 (December 2007). Whitaker, Reginald. “Review: [untitled]”, Canadian Journal of Political Science / Revue canadienne de science politique, Vol. 13 No. 2 396-398 (June 1980).


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