Canada has announced its has selected the Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II to fulfil its Future Fighter Capability requirement to replace the McDonnel Douglas CF-18A/B Hornet in service.
The 28 March announcement says 88 F-35As are required, and that negotiations with Lockheed Martin and the US Government are expected to last several months before an order is confirmed by the end of 2022.
“Following a rigorous evaluation of proposals, the Government of Canada today announced it will now enter into the finalisation phase of the procurement process with the top-ranked bidder, the US government and Lockheed Martin, for the F-35 fighter jet,” a government release said.
“This procurement represents the most significant investment in the RCAF in more than 30 years. It is essential for protecting the safety and security of Canadians, it will enhance our Arctic sovereignty, it will ensure we are equipped to better defend North America and it will help make sure we continue to meet our NATO and NORAD obligations well into the future.
“This represents a major milestone in this open, fair and competitive process,” the release added. “The multi-step assessment process took into account a wide range of factors, including capabilities, cost, as well as economic benefits and impacts.
“Recognising that these fighter jets must effectively serve the RCAF and Canadians over the coming decades, Canada evaluated these aircraft against typical scenarios familiar to NATO and NORAD allies, which were further tailored to meet the needs of the RCAF, including Canada’s unique northern geography. We are confident that this competitive process will deliver the best results for the Canadian Armed Forces and for Canadians.”
The announcement comes after nearly a protracted decade-long series of delays to Canada’s CF-18 replacement program. Despite Canada joining the multi-national Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) program in 2001 as an early Tier 2 partner along with US, the UK, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Denmark, Turkey, and Australia, and being allocated a substantial amount of defence industry supply chain work, the government never committed to a buy of the aircraft.
In the lead-up to the 2015 general election, the incoming Trudeau Liberal government promised to abandon plans to acquire the F-35, and instead conduct a competitive evaluation of a number of combat aircraft. In 2017, Canada ordered 18 Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornets as a bridging capability until the evaluation could be finalised, and also expressed interest in acquiring up to 25 former RAAF F/A-18A/B Hornets to augment its own similarly-configured Hornet fleet.
But the interim Super Hornet order was soon cancelled in the wake of Boeing claims to the US Department of Commerce that Canadian manufacturer Bombardier had ‘dumped’ CSeries airliners onto the US market with the aid of Canadian federal aid and provincial tax subsidies. While Boeing’s claim was initially upheld and a 300 per cent tariff was imposed on the CSeries, it was subsequently dismissed by the US Trade Commission.
The first two RAAF jets were delivered to Canada in February 2019 after participating in Red Flag 19-1, while subsequent aircraft and spares have been delivered aboard commercial An-124 freighters from RAAF Williamtown. About 18 former-RAAF jets have been upgraded with new ejection seats and provision for Canadian radios and Sniper targeting pods, while the rest of the aircraft will be used as a source of spares.
The initial contenders for Canada’s new evaluation were the F-35A, a renewed bid from Boeing with the F/A-18E/F, the Saab JAS-39E/F Gripen, Airbus with the Eurofighter EF2000, and Dassault’s Rafale. A Request for Proposals was released in July 2019, although Dassault had withdrawn by that time reportedly because it felt it could it meet Canada’s industrial offset requirements, with Airbus following later that year for similar reasons.
Three companies responded to the RFP, and the Canadian government subsequently announced in December 2021 a shortlist of two contenders – the F-35A and the Gripen –after the Super Hornet was excluded.
The first F-35As are expected to be delivered from 2025, with the final aircraft arriving in 2032.