The Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) will start engaging with industry from next month as it starts work towards defining its requirements for a future fighter lead-in trainer (FFLIT) to enter service early next decade.

A key need for the future asset will be to prepare students to fly the RCAF’s future fleet of Lockheed Martin F-35As. Ottawa is to acquire 88 of the fifth-generation type to replace its current Boeing F/A-18A/B Hornets.

Canadian F-35 rendering

Source: Lockheed Martin

Royal Canadian Air Force will field an 88-strong fleet of stealthy F-35As

The RCAF recently entered a period of self-styled “hiatus” regarding the provision of advanced and lead-in fighter training services, with the last BAE Systems Hawk 115s operated by the CAE-run NATO Flying Training in Canada (NFTC) programme having been retired without an immediate replacement.

Under its interim plan, the service will send students to international training schools at Decimomannu in Sardinia, Italy, and at Sheppard AFB in Texas, the USA. It also plans to deploy personnel to train with the Finnish air force.

A first Canadian F-35 will be handed over to the RCAF in 2026, with the aircraft initially to support training activities in the USA. This means there will be a gap of several years before an incoming FFLIT platform can enter operational use with the service’s 419 Squadron.

“The RCAF Future FLIT programme is moving towards a detailed system definition activity, including upcoming industry engagement events, commencing at CANSEC in May,” a source familiar with the process says, referring to Canada’s 29-30 May defence show in Ottawa.

Meanwhile, the RCAF also has begun working with three of its “Five Eyes” security partners – F-35 operators Australia, the UK and the USA – to help inform its pilot training requirements to support operations with the stealth fighter.

Meanwhile, Ottawa expects to sign a contract for its new-generation Future Aircrew Training (FAcT) system “before the summer”, according to sources speaking at Defence iQ’s Military Flight Training conference in London in late March.

To be delivered by the SkyAlyne joint venture between CAE and KF Aerospace, this will replace the services delivered using its existing NFTC and Allied Wings programmes. Types currently flown under those arrangements – both of which are to conclude during 2027 – are the Grob Aircraft G120A, Beechcraft T-6A and King Air 90, and Bell 206 and 412 helicopters.

Allied Wings Bell 412

Source: Royal Canadian Air Force

Current Allied Wings service uses training assets including the Bell 412

SkyAlyne was named preferred bidder for the FaCT programme in July 2023. To deliver services from sites in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, and Portage la Prairie and Winnipeg, Manitoba, the contractor “will lead the significant rebuilding of facilities and modernisation of equipment, including new fleets of training aircraft”, it says.

In addition to supporting its future introduction of the F-35A, Canada’s new training system will be required to prepare personnel to operate an array of additional incoming types, with orders in place for Airbus Defence & Space A330 tanker/transports, Boeing P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft and General Atomics Aeronautical Systems MQ-9B SkyGuardian remotely piloted aircraft.