The federal government will decide over the coming weeks whether it will select outright a new fighter jet or have the remaining two bidders try to sweeten their proposals.
Public Services and Procurement Canada announced Wednesday that the Gripen, made by the Swedish firm Saab, and the F-35 from Lockheed Martin of the United States were the two aircraft being considered by the federal government to replace the military’s CF-18s.
The Boeing Super Hornet was eliminated from the competition, although the statement from Public Services and Procurement Canada made no mention of that U.S. aircraft.
The proposals were assessed on elements of capability, cost and economic benefits, the department statement noted. The evaluation also included an assessment of economic impact, it added.
“Over the coming weeks, Canada will finalize next steps for the process, which (will be) based on further analysis of the 2 remaining bids,” PSPC noted. That could involve proceeding to final negotiations with the top-ranked bidder or entering into what the department calls a “competitive dialogue” in which the two remaining bidders would be provided with an opportunity to improve their proposals.
The department stated that Canada “continues to work towards a contract award in 2022, with delivery of aircraft as early as 2025.”
The competition to buy 88 new fighter jets was announced in 2017. A formal request for proposals was released in July 2019. While the project to buy the aircraft is expected to cost between $15 billion and $19 billion, those against the purchase have noted the full lifecycle cost for the planes is estimated at $77 billion.
Although the Gripen is seen as optimal for cold weather and Arctic operations and the company has committed to building those planes in Canada, the Liberal government will be under intense pressure from the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden to select the Lockheed Martin F-35.
The previous Conservative government had previously selected the F-35 stealth fighter as the air force’s new jet, but backed away from that plan amid concerns about the technology and growing cost.
During the 2015 election campaign, Liberal leader Justin Trudeau vowed that his government would not purchase the F-35.
But the Liberal government backed away from the promise to freeze out the F-35 and that aircraft is now seen as a top contender in the competition as it has many supporters in the Royal Canadian Air Force.
At one point Boeing was slated to provide Canada with a number of Super Hornet jets to fill the role of an interim fighter aircraft until new planes could be acquired, but in 2017 a feud developed between Boeing and the Liberal government over the company’s trade complaint against Bombardier over commercial aircraft. The Liberals halted the deal to buy the interim Super Hornets and promised it would penalize fighter jet bidders if they caused economic harm to Canada.
Boeing officials thought those threats were in the past as the company had a strong presence in Canada, employing large numbers of Canadians. Boeing had also cited a study by economists at Ottawa-based Doyletech Corp. that a Super Hornet selection could mean 250,000 jobs for the Canadian economy over the life of the program.
Lockheed Martin has highlighted the contracts that Canadian firms have already received on the F-35. In addition, other nations Canada is allied with are acquiring the F-35.
But the F-35 has faced concerns. In February, U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Brown Jr. said he wanted to develop a new more affordable fifth generation aircraft that would have some of the F-35’s characteristics, but would be less costly to operate. Brown’s comments generated much media coverage with the F-35 being labelled a “failure.” The F-35 is estimated to cost around $33,000 U.S. an hour to keep the plane flying, but Lockheed Martin hopes to reduce that cost.
In March, Adam Smith, head of the U.S. House of Representatives Armed Services Committee, called for the F-35 program to be shut down. The aircraft “doesn’t work particularly well” and is too expensive to maintain. “I want to stop throwing money down that particular rathole,” Smith said.
Smith, however, admitted that the U.S. wouldn’t shut down the F-35 program as it had invested too much in it.