By David Pugliese
The competition to supply Canada with a new fighter jet is officially on.
Liberal ministers announced the start of the competition on December 12, 2017 and plans are moving forward on the process.
The Liberal government has committed to buying 88 aircraft.
Senior government officials said the finalized solicitation documents will be released beginning in spring 2019 and that these will result in the selection of a permanent replacement fighter aircraft fleet by 2022. The first plane would arrive in 2025.
The new fleet will be continuing in service beyond 2060.
So how will the process unfold?
The Canadian government held what it called a Future Fighter Industry Day on January 22 in Ottawa.
The objective of the event was to present foreign governments and industry with the information required for them to make an informed decision about whether they will participate in the procurement. In addition, the event provided an opportunity for Canadian industry to network with foreign governments and fighter aircraft manufacturers.
The industry day went for four hours and involved 200 participants from foreign governments as well as Canadian and foreign industry, Troy Crosby, Director General, Defence Major Projects Sector for Public Services and Procurement Canada, told Esprit de Corps. “Our objective, and I think it was fairly successful based on the feedback we got, was to ensure the potential suppliers have the information they need,” he said. That information, Crosby noted, will allow participants to “understand what it is this procurement is out to achieve.”
Canada will establish a list of suppliers as a first step in this procurement. The list will be comprised of foreign governments and fighter aircraft manufacturers that have demonstrated their ability to meet Canada’s needs, according to the federal government. Responses from those who want to be on the suppliers’ list have to be submitted by February 9.
Once the list is formalized, only suppliers on the list will be invited to “subsequent engagement activities and to submit proposals for this procurement,” the Canadian government has noted.
Proposals will be rigorously assessed on elements of cost, technical requirements and economic benefits.
At the same time, the ministers also announced a change to the standard procurement process. The new provision appears aimed directly at Boeing, which complained to the Trump administration that its Quebec-based competitor Bombardier was receiving unfair government subsidies on the production of its C-Series civilian passenger aircraft. The U.S. ruled in favour of Boeing, resulting in Bombardier facing duties of almost 300 per cent on sales of its C-Series planes in America.
The Liberal government retaliated against Boeing’s complaint by cancelling plans to buy 18 of the company’s Super Hornet fighter jets at a cost of around $6 billion.
And as part of the competition for the new fighter jets, Canada will assess a company’s “economic behaviour” in previous years — a provision that effectively serves notice to Boeing that it will be at a disadvantage in competing for the new program as long as the U.S. duties against Bombardier stand.
The provision was immediately dubbed by the news media as the “Boeing clause.”
Navdeep Bains, the Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development, said at the news conference to announce the competition that any company is welcome in the process. But the new policy is designed to protect the Canadian economy and key sectors such as aerospace, he added. “If they (a company) cause economic harm they will be at a distinct disadvantage,” Bains said.
Bains and Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan said Canada was looking for a “trusted partner” to provide it with new fighter jets. In the ongoing battle with Boeing, cabinet ministers continued to state that Boeing was no longer a trusted partner.
But procurement minister Carla Qualtrough left the door open for Boeing to change its stance. She said that the evaluation of bids will be done in several years and the provision will be enforced based on a company’s situation at that time. That allows Boeing a chance to drop its complaint against Bombardier, government officials privately noted.
But is the so-called Boeing clause even legal? Public Services and Procurement Canada received a legal analysis about this potentially controversial policy and Qualtrough indicated she was confident the clause could stand any test. Although she said that there are no guarantees Canada would not be sued, Qualtrough added, “We are confident this policy is appropriate.”
The policy would be applied to all future procurements, she added.
What was missing from the news conference was an explanation and proposed criteria on how the federal government would determine whether a company has harmed Canada’s economy.
Boeing officials have repeatedly pointed out that the company is a trusted partner to Canada as it employs thousands of people in the country and has been a presence in the domestic aerospace market for decades. Boeing would also be able to point to its operations in Canada and how it has successfully met all offset requirements from previous defence contracts.
So, which firms are expected to be interested in the new fighter procurement? The list is the same as it has been for the last ten years, when the Conservative government looked at replacing the CF-188 Hornet fleet. The potential contenders include:
LOCKHEED MARTIN F-35
Lockheed Martin has in the past not only highlighted the advanced fifth generation capabilities and stealth technology of its F-35 but it has been promoting the fact that the aircraft is now operational. It expects the cost to come down as more aircraft are produced for Canada’s allies. In addition, Canadian industrial participation in the F-35 program has reached $1 billion (..) as more than 110 Canadian firms have landed contracts related to the aircraft program. That will be key for Lockheed Martin to highlight to Canadian government officials.
Interoperability with Canada’s allies is also a key factor since many will be operating the F-35 far into the future.
To address concerns about the plane’s ability to operate in the Arctic, Lockheed Martin officials point out that F-35 customers – the U.S., Denmark and Norway – will all be using the aircraft in Arctic operations.
BOEING SUPER HORNET
Boeing officials have pointed out their aircraft is combat proven, less expensive than the F-35 and will be operating for more than another 20 years. They have also highlighted the fact that its two engines provide added safety for Arctic flights.
The jet has its landing gear designed to take the pounding of short landings on aircraft carriers, a design that works nicely with the forward operating locations in Canada’s Arctic, company officials have noted in the past.
Another feature is that the Super Hornet can act as a refueller for other Super Hornets, extending its range significantly.
With the so-called “Boeing clause” as part of the selection criteria expect the company to highlight the work Canadian firms do on a variety of its aircraft. In all, some 2,000 Canadians are employed by Boeing.
In addition, since the RCAF already operates the CF-18 Hornet, there should be a smooth training transition for the Super Hornet. The aircraft can also make use of Canada’s existing infrastructure.
Saab’s Gripen is known for its reasonable acquisition price tag and its low maintenance costs.
The aircraft has a proven track record in a cold weather environment and is compatible with weapon systems used by Canada.
In addition, the aircraft is designed to take off from short runways and can be outfitted with Link 16 for communications with NATO and U.S. allies.
In the past, Saab has indicated its willingness to assemble aircraft in Canada if that is something Canada’s government is interested in having done. In its recent deal with Brazil, Saab showed a flexibility to work with domestic firms. Brazil’s government selected the Gripen NG over the Dassault Rafale and Boeing Super Hornet.
The consortium promoting the Eurofighter Typhoon has pointed out that the aircraft is less expensive than the F-35. Any purchase by Canada could also include technology sharing and final assembly in Canada. The combat-tested aircraft is also compatible with U.S.-made weapons that are used by Canada.
The Typhoon has both the speed and the range for Canada, Eurofighter test pilot Christian Worning has told Canadian parliamentarians.
The Eurofighter consortium can also promote the fact that the aircraft has two engines, providing it with added safety while flying on Arctic operations.
Dassault, as part of its previous sales pitch to Canada, promised to transfer fighter jet technology/intellectual property to Canada. The aircraft has two engines and has been combat tested in Libya and Mali. Dassault has noted that the aircraft — or parts of it — could also be assembled in Canada.