The Canadian government has announced it has agreed to terms with Lockheed Martin and Pratt & Whitney for the acquisition of 88 F-35A Lightning II fighters to meet its Future Fighter Capability Project requirement.
The C$19bn (A$20.3bn) agreement confirms Canada’s March 2022 announcement of its selection of the F-35A over the competing Saab JAS-39E/F Gripen to replace its ageing fleet of McDonnell Douglas CF-18A/B Hornets and up to 25 former RAAF F/A-18A/B Hornets. Canada had also assessed the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, Dassault Rafale, and Eurofighter EF-2000 for the requirement, but these were withdrawn from or dropped from consideration during the process.
The Canadian F-35 acquisition has been a drawn out process. A 2010 commitment for 90 F-35As was overturned in 2015 by the then incoming Trudeau government which had promised to cancel the project due to cost and schedule overruns, and re-compete the requirement. In 2016 Canada ordered an interim batch of 18 Super Hornets, but this was cancelled a year later after a trade dispute between Boeing and Canada’s Bombardier. In the end, the F-35A prevailed against all-comers.
“The F-35 is a modern, reliable, and agile fighter aircraft used by our closest allies in missions across the globe,” Defence Minister Anita Anand said in a 9 January release. “It is the most advanced fighter on the market, and it is the right aircraft for our country.”
The F-35As will be acquired in three small annual batches totaling 16 jets from 2026, before deliveries ramp up, and the aircraft will be based at Cold Lake in Alberta, and Bagotville in Quebec. Canadian F-35s will be fitted with a rear fuselage-mounted drag chute developed for the Royal Norwegian Air Force’s (RNoAF) F-35A’s to assist with braking in icy runway conditions.
“We are honoured the Government of Canada has selected the F-35, and we look forward to continuing our partnership with the Royal Canadian Air Force and the Canadian defense industry to deliver and sustain the aircraft,” vice president and general manager for Lockheed’s F-35 program, Bridget Lauderdale said in a company statement. “The selection of F-35 strengthens allied airpower in Canada, North America, and around the world.”
Canada is one of several new customers for the F-35 in recent years, and is the last of the original nine partner nations – US, UK, Canada, Norway, Netherlands, Italy, Denmark, Australia, and Turkey – to place an order for the jet. Turkey’s participation in the program was suspended in 2019 after it acquired S-400 SAM systems from Russia.
Including the partners nations, there are now 17 customers for the aircraft. Early FMS customers included Israel, Japan, and South Korea, while more recently Belgium, Singapore, Finland, Germany, Switzerland, and Poland have all ordered the aircraft, most of which will be the same F-35A model operated by Australia. The UAE had requested up to 50 F-35As, but this process was suspended by the Biden administration in January 2021.
In total, more than 890 F-35s have been delivered, with the global fleet having flown more than 610,000 hours. On 30 December the US DoD approved a multi-year buy of 398 F-35s of all models for US and international operators across three production lots.