Ottawa has released a request for proposals (RFP) for its future fighter competition that could see it obtain 88 new fighter jets.

Released on 23 July by Public Services and Procurement Canada, it names four potential contenders: Saab, Airbus Defense & Space, Lockheed Martin, and Boeing.

“This is the most significant investment in the Royal Canadian Air Force in more than 30 years,” says the Canadian government in a press statement.

“With it, the government will deliver the aircraft that meet Canada’s needs, while ensuring good value for Canadians. This investment will support the growth of Canada’s highly skilled workforce in the aerospace and defence industries for decades to come, from coast to coast.”

Ottawa stresses that all bidders will be assessed on the same criteria of merit (60%), cost (20%), and economic benefits (20%). Bidders will also be able to redress concerns about their bids.

A contract award is expected in early 2022, with the first aircraft delivery “as early as 2025.”

“All suppliers will be required to provide a plan for economic benefits equal to the value of their proposed contract, with maximum points only being awarded to suppliers who provide contractual guarantees.”

Prior to the RFP, Reuters reported that Boeing and Airbus had complained to Canada’s Department of National Defence that the competition will unfairly favour Lockheed Martin’s F-35A.

Boeing will offer the F/A-18 E/F Super Hornet and Airbus will be campaign lead for the Eurofighter Typhoon. Saab is ready to sell the Canadian government Canadian-built Gripen fighters.

On 10 July, Boeing denied a news report that it was considering pulling out of the competition, stating that it would decide on its next steps after reviewing the RFP.

Canada is a member of the F-35 programme, but has equivocated on whether to obtain the fighter over the last decade. Lockheed, for its part, contends that it cannot provide offsets because Canadian companies have already received over $1 billion in F-35 related work.

Ottawa was involved the F-35 from as early as 1997, and its former conservative government committed to buy 65 F-35As in 2010 without a competition. In 2015 the newly elected Liberal government of prime minister Justin Trudeau, however, fulfilled a campaign promise by putting the acquisition up for a competitive tender.

Ottawa wanted to buy 18 Super Hornets to fill a capability gap, but this possibility collapsed amid a 2017 trade dispute with the USA levelled by Boeing against the Bombardier CSeries programme, which has subsequently become the Airbus A220.

Instead, Canada entered a deal with Australia to buy up to 25 surplus F/A-18 A/B “Classic” Hornets. This is intended to temporarily shore up its ageing fleet of 85 CF-18 A/B fighters.