Canada’s National Post is reporting that the country’s Conservative–or Tory if you prefer–government will soon issue requests for information (RFI) to Boeing, Eurofighter and possibly Dassault for a potential alternative to the Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. The move is designed to signal that the Harper government is serious about considering alternatives to the stealthy single-engine fighter, the purchase of which is mired in controversy in Canada.
The Post reports that the RFI is not a formal tender but more of a market analysis. Canada’s minister of public works, Rona Ambrose, is apparently setting aside the Royal Canadian Air Force’s stated requirements for its next generation fighter while a new analysis is conducted. “We are looking at all options on the table at this point,” Ambrose says.
The Post’s sources say that officials inside the public works ministry are “not comfortable” with the Canadian Department of National Defense’s stated requirements for a new fighter. They’re doing their own “due diligence.”
The alternatives that Canada will likely consider are Boeing’s F/A-18E/F Super Hornet (and possibly versions of the F-15, but that’s probably not likely), the Eurofighter Typhoon, the Dassault Rafale and probably the Saab Gripen. The Super Hornet, Typhoon and Rafale have twin engines, which at least for some Royal Canadian Air Force pilots, is a major benefit when patrolling the vast reaches of the Canadian Arctic.
But US Air force pilots who have flown in similar Arctic conditions don’t necessarily buy that argument. “F-16s have been flying out of Eielson AFB for 20 years and haven’t had many problems with their single engine,” one senior USAF pilot says. Another USAF pilot with similar experience in Alaska says: “I don’t buy the ‘can’t use a single engine aircraft for alert ops’ argument that some Canadians are using. We always wore gear suitable to survive long enough to get rescued. If you make the assumption up front that there’s a chance you’ll have to bail out, then the probability of bailing out shouldn’t really matter…especially if it’s extremely negligible.”