As Canada formulates requirements for a future fighter to replace Boeing CF-18 Hornets, the government is now asking six potential bidders for information about their capabilities to maintain the new fleet.

A letter of interest sent to bidders on 23 July broadens the Canadian government’s year-long series of engagements with industry suppliers.

The letter asks the six potential bidders to provide feedback on how the government plans to divide the sustainment responsibilities between industry and the Department of National Defence.

“Please indicate any barriers or challenges that you would need to address to allow you to undertake this work for a future fighter fleet,” the letter states.

Sustainment practices among the six potential bidders vary widely. Lockheed Martin’s F-35A, for example, consolidates sustainment planning and support in a central hub, feeding data and parts to several regional depots stationed among the global partners. Other potential bidders, including the Boeing F/A-18E/F, Dassault Rafale, Eurofighter Typhoon and Saab Gripen, offer services ranging from turn-key maintenance support to varying levels of direct and indirect support.

All six potential bidders signed on to the official Supplier’s List in February. Their presence on the list allows the suppliers to continue engaging with the Canadian government about the acquisition, but does not commit them to submit a bid.

The Royal Canadian Air Force plans to award a contract in 2021 or 2022 for 88 new fighters, with deliveries scheduled from 2025 to 2031.

A Conservative Canadian government selected the F-35 in 2009, but that plan was scrapped after the Liberal party ascended to power in Ottawa in 2015.

Prime minister Justin Trudeau’s government initially selected the F/A-18E/F for an interim contract for 24 aircraft, while it continued to evaluate options on a permanent CF-18 replacement. But Trudeau cancelled a plan to sign the interim contract last summer after Boeing filed a trade complaint against Bombardier with the US Department of Commerce.

Meanwhile, Trudeau’s government launched an acquisition process for the Future Fighter Capability in December 2017.