Boeing has yet to decide whether to compete for a contract worth $12-14.5 billion to replace Canada’s tactical fighter fleet. The airframer once had the deal in its pocket before Ottawa terminated plans to buy the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet after Boeing filed a trade complaint against Bombardier last May.
In a possible sign that the company could forego submitting a bid, Boeing chose to skip a one-day information session for potential bidders on 22 January that was hosted by Canadian agency managing the Future Fighter Capability acquisition programme.
Boeing confirmed the absence and says it remains convinced that the Super Hornet is the best option for the Royal Canadian Air Force, although the airframer has not decided whether to offer the aircraft yet.
“We continue to believe that the Super Hornet is the low-risk, low-cost approach that has all the advanced capabilities the Royal Canadian Air Force needs now and well into the future,” Boeing says.
“We will evaluate our participation in Canada’s Future Fighter Capability Project (FFCP) after the Government of Canada outlines the FFCP procurement approach, requirements and evaluation criteria,” Boeing adds.
US government officials attended the information session hosted by Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC), the Canadian government’s acquisition arm, Boeing says.
Boeing may face a deadline in two weeks to make a decision. Attendance at the information session was not mandatory, but PSPC has requested that all potential bidders respond by 9 February to an invitation to join a Suppliers List. Only companies that respond to the invitation will be informed and allowed to participate in all future steps of the FFCP acquisition process, the PSPC says.
The indecision by Boeing reflects a staggering turn-around in the company’s fortunes in Ottawa since last year. In his victorious 2015 election campaign, now-prime minister Justin Trudeau promised to cancel the previous government’s plans to buy the Lockheed Martin F-35A without first staging a competition. A year later, the Trudeau government announced plans to acquire 24 new F/A-18E/Fs as an interim replacement for the CF-18, until a competition selected a permanent solution after 2020.
But those plans changed last May after Boeing filed an anti-dumping and countervailing duty complaint against Canadian aircraft manufacturer Bombardier over an April 16 sale to Delta Air Lines of 75 CS100s. The US Commerce Department agreed with Boeing’s position and set a nearly 300% tariff on CSeries imports to the USA. The final outcome of the case now depends on a vote by the US International Trade Commission on 25 January, which will decide whether the Delta order caused financial harm to Boeing and, if so, ratify the tariff.
Meanwhile, the Trudeau government scrapped the plan to buy Super Hornets last summer. The RCAF instead plans to buy retired F/A-18s from the Royal Australian Air Force as an interim CF-18 replacement.