Justin Ling — Vice News July 27, 2016
If newly-obtained documents are any indication, Canada may become the first country to scrap its order for the American F-35 fighter jet, the most expensive weapons program ever. Letters sent to the big industry players are just further evidence that the government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is set to pull the trigger on a whole new open competition to pick Canada’s next generation of fighter jet.
That competition will likely favour an out-of-the-box jet, over the expensive F-35.
Industry sources confirmed that the government set up meetings with big-name players in the aerospace industry in recent weeks to figure out its next steps in buying a new fighter jet — this, even though it’s technically already on the hook to buy 65 of the F-35 Lightning II jets, manufactured by Lockheed Martin.
Those face-to-face meetings took place with representatives from two US companies: Boeing, Lockheed Martin itself; Sweden’s Saab; the French Dassault; and the European multinational consortium Eurofighter. All of them make fighters that, while less advanced than the stealthy F-35, are vastly cheaper.
The meetings follow a 38-page questionnaire, provided to VICE News, which was sent to the five industry players, asking them to lay out the pros and cons of their jets.
This inquiry is likely the first step in what promises to be a protracted competition to choose a warplane to replace the current fleet of 79 CF-188 Hornets, a version of the American F-18, that Canada bought in the 1980s. Those jets, the letter notes, “should have been replaced years ago”
“The Government of Canada remains committed to building a more agile, better-equipped military, while ensuring best value for Canadians,” reads a letter sent to the companies that accompanied the questionnaire.
Pulling out of the international consortium to build the F-35 program — which dates back to 1998 and includes the United States, United Kingdom, Italy, the Netherlands, Australia, and others — could be costly for the remaining partners, and may force some of the smaller states to reconsider their participation. The total cost of the program for Canada is pegged at some $25 billion, over the life of the jets. The full cost of the procurement is virtually impossible to pin down, but it is estimated that the full life-cycle cost for the US’ nearly 2,500 planes could hit $1.5 trillion.
While the document stresses that “no decision has been made at this time and all procurement options are being considered,” those in the industry who have obtained the letter say it likely means that Ottawa will start from scratch and force a whole new competition for the jets.
Ottawa isn’t wasting time. The letters, sent July 7, have a due date of July 29 for the submission of proposals.
A spokesperson for the Department of National Defense wouldn’t comment on the letters, but indicated that they would be posted publicly next week.
If Canada does go back to the drawing board, it could be bad news for the international F-35 program, which has been beset by one problem after another. According to a March 2016 report, its software remained buggy. It shook mid-flight. Its diagnostics system had trouble figuring out what needs repair, and what doesn’t.
Those problems, Lockheed Martin contends, have been put to bed. The company expects to announce that the planes are fully operational in US service — with all the kinks worked out — by the end of summer.
No country has, thus far, pulled out entirely from the consortium, despite heated political debates in some countries that have chosen the F-35.
Since their election in October, the Liberals have been been paralyzed on what to do about the procurement process.
In their official platform, Trudeau’s party swore: “We will not buy the F-35 stealth fighter-bomber.” Their plan was to reopen the competition process, rip up the sole-sourced contract to Lockheed Martin, and exclude the F-35 altogether.