Things are hotting up in Canada over the nation’s F-18 replacement options, with the key question being whether Ottawa will go forward with previous plans to buy the F-35, or enter into a competitive process.
Clearly worried by the prospect of the second option, the pro-F-35 ‘Canadian JSF Industry Group’ published an open letter ahead of the CANSEC show, which took place in Ottawa from 28-29 May. Further delaying a firm commitment to the Lockheed Martin type (US Air Force image below) would be “a costly exercise in terms of personnel, resources and life extension for the existing fleet”, the partner companies warn, while also adding that “current Canadian F-35 contracts and jobs will very soon start going to countries that are today buying the aircraft”.
Sensing that the door might be slightly ajar, representatives from the Eurofighter consortium were at the Ottawa show, in a bid to raise the profile of the Typhoon. I spoke to a senior sales official from the company at the recent ILA show in Berlin, and he said that they had previously completed a questionnaire resulting in only ticked boxes from Canada. However, there’s no clarity yet on whether a competition will be launched – or that if it comes, that the requirements might not be put down in a way that would result in an F-35 purchase anyway.
Arguing their case, the more than 35 companies behind the Canadian JSF Industry Group argue that a competition would take three years to run, “and the only significant outcome will be hundreds of millions of dollars of more lost opportunities for companies across Canada”. They add: “This should not be about politics. It should be about our national capability and determining what is best for the country.”
The best way of doing this, they say, would be to back the programme which is due to stay in production until 2039. So which should win out: “warfighter capability”; domestic industry; or perhaps both?