Canada’s Future Fighter Selection Enters the Final Straight

 - August 3, 2020, 5:02 AM
A Royal Canadian Air Force CF-18 flies over Iraq in November 2015 during Operation Impact, Canada’s ongoing contribution to anti-Daesh operations. The “legacy” Hornets are due to be replaced from 2025. (Photo: Canadian Department of National Defence)

The Canadian government has received proposals from the three eligible suppliers bidding to meet the country’s Future Fighter Capability Project requirement, which seeks 88 aircraft to replace the current fleet of CF-18 and ex-Australian F/A-18 Hornets. All three bidders responded to the request for proposals issued a year ago by the deadline of July 30.

The three teams vying for the contract comprise: Saab, partnered with Diehl Defence, MBDA UK and Rafael, offering the Gripen E: Lockheed Martin and Pratt & Whitney proposing the F-35A; and Boeing, with Peraton Canada, CAE, L3 Technologies, GE Canada and Raytheon Canada offering the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet. All three bids are supported by the relevant national governments.

Proposals are being evaluated on the basis of capability, cost and economic benefits, the elements being weighted 60:20:20, respectively. “This project represents a once-in-a-generation opportunity to support the competitiveness and growth of Canada’s aerospace and defence industries,” said Navdeep Bains, Canada's minister of innovation, science, and economic development. “Our government will evaluate each of these proposals based on their plans to invest in Canada’s economy and to support high-value Canadian jobs.”

An initial evaluation is expected to be completed by spring 2021. After that time, the government noted in its announcement that it, “may choose to enter into dialogue with two or more compliant bidders and request revised proposals.” The announcement also stated that “an independent fairness monitor” is overseeing the process to ensure “a level playing field for all potential bidders.” A contract award is expected sometime in 2022 to allow deliveries to begin in 2025.

Lockheed Martin said that Canada has been a valued partner in the F-35 program and plays an integral role in the supply chain. An estimated 150,000 jobs could be supported over the life of the program, the company said, as well as providing capability. "The fifth-generation F-35 would transform the Royal Canadian Air Force fleet and deliver the capabilities necessary to safeguard Canadian skies,” commented Greg Ulmer, LM’s executive v-p for the F-35 program. “The F-35's unique mix of stealth and sensor technology will enable the Royal Canadian Air Force to modernize their contribution to NORAD operations, ensure Arctic sovereignty and meet increasingly sophisticated global threats.”

Saab’s Gripen proposal is based around its Gripen for Canada team, which also includes local companies IMP Aerospace & Defence, CAE, Peraton Canada and GE Aviation. “Saab’s Gripen fighter is designed to operate in harsh environments and defeat the most advanced global threats. The system meets all of Canada’s specific defense requirements, offering exceptional performance and advanced technical capabilities,” said Jonas Hjelm, senior v-p and head of Saab’s Aeronautics business area. “A unique element of the avionics design is that Gripen E’s system can be updated quickly, maintaining technological superiority against any adversary.”

For its part, Boeing claimed that its Block III Super Hornet is proven and affordable, and also offers a twin-engined option, a factor that influenced the selection of the original CF-18 Hornet in 1980. “We have a partnership with Canada that spans more than 100 years. We don’t take that lightly,” said Boeing’s director of Canada Fighter Sales, Jim Barnes. “The response we submitted builds upon that great legacy and allows us to continue to bring the best of Boeing to Canada and the best of Canada to Boeing.”