Ottawa expects to make a decision soon on whether to stage an open competition to replace its Boeing CF-18 fighters, or to instead advance with previous plans to acquire up to 65 Lockheed Martin F-35s.
Expressing concern that the nation’s government could lean towards the first of these options, a pro-F-35 ‘Canadian JSF Industry Group’ published an open letter ahead of the CANSEC defence and security show, which took place in Ottawa from 28-29 May.
Arguing their case, the more than 35 companies behind the group warn: “The decision delays to this point have already cost Canadian companies hundreds of millions of dollars in new opportunities. Soon Lockheed Martin may need to secure second sources for components currently built by Canadian suppliers if there is a belief Canada does not intend to buy the F-35. Our leverage is already fading, with new purchases of the airplane around the globe.”
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 continue, describing such a process as also being “a costly exercise in terms of personnel, resources and life extension for the existing fleet”.
Noting that Lockheed’s current expectation is for an F-35 production run until 2039, the group says: “This should not be about politics. It should be about our national capability and determining what is best for the country. Using a competition to simply delay making a decision is not in the interests of Canadian taxpayers or Canadian industry.”
The Ottawa show attracted representatives from several potential rival bidders, who had sensed that the door might be slightly ajar. Possible alternatives to an F-35 fleet include the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, Dassault Rafale and Eurofighter Typhoon.
Speaking at CANSEC, Minister of Public Works and Government Services Canada Diane Finley said: “We will keep the commitment we made last December to make the public report on the evaluation of [fighter] options available soon. We will ensure that the Canadian armed forces have the equipment they need to do the work that we ask of them.”
Referring generally to the nation’s new defence procurement strategy, Finley notes: “Companies that demonstrate a willingness to invest in Canada through the transfer of intellectual property, the creation of skilled jobs, innovation-related activities and export and international business development will have a competitive advantage when bids for defence and major Canadian Coast Guard procurements are evaluated.”
The Royal Canadian Air Force has a current active fleet of 64 F/A-18As and 26 B-model trainers, as recorded by Flightglobal’s MiliCAS database. Operations with the type – locally designated the CF-188 – are expected to continue until beyond 2020.