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​Canada announces open fighter competition with caveats

Canada will hold an open competition to replace its aging CF-18 fighter fleet, but sent a firm warning to any company who might try to hurt Canadian business.

That admonition appeared as a not-so-veiled threat toward Boeing, whose commercial arm launched a spat with Bombardier by accusing the Canadian manufacturer of dumping the CSeries on the market.

The Royal Canadian Air Force will purchase 88 advanced fighters, with a request for proposals expected in spring of 2019 and a decision by 2022, defence officials announced this week. The replacement could begin as early as 2025. Any company is welcome to bid, though officials emphasized a Canada-first policy that would continue with future procurements. Canada’s minister of innovation, science and technology repeated that the government believes Boeing’s position in the ongoing trade dispute is without merit.

“With respect to the new policy today, anyone can apply. Make no mistake, it’s an open and transparent process,” Navdeep Bains says. “But we’ve been very clear with this new policy. If there’s economic harm to Canada, if there’s an impact on Canadian jobs, if there’s an impact to some of the key sectors of the Canadian economy, you will be at a distinct disadvantage.”

Despite that language, Canada dangled both a carrot and stick in the fighter announcement, saying the government would not assess the economic impact of each bid until late 2019 or 2020. That could give Boeing enough time to stay in the competition.

“We’re hoping this policy incentivises all suppliers to behave in such a way that they won’t be at a disadvantage at the time of assessment,” says Carla Qualtrough, Canada’s minister of procurement.

Canada did not shoot down Boeing in the long-term recapitalisation, but will let the US manufacturer’s offer of 18 F/A-18E/F models expire. Instead, the RCAF will pursue the sale of used Boeing F/A-18A/B Hornets and spare parts from the Royal Australian Air Force. The government has not cemented the purchase, with officials saying the government will respond to the letter of agreement. The government expects first deliveries in 2019 with the last of the used aircraft arriving around 2021, though the date is dependent on when the RAAF’s F/A-18 fleet is replaced by Lockheed Martin F-35s.

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