Replacement Debate: CF-18 jets fly over Iceland in 2013 during Operation IGNITION. An announcement may come this week on how, or if, Canada will replace the jets with F-35s. (Cpl. Pierre Habib/Canadian Forces)
VICTORIA, BRITISH COLUMBIA — An announcement about how Canada will proceed with its multibillion dollar fighter jet procurement is expected as early as June 10, even as conflicting reports emerge about whether the F-35 will be selected.
The Canadian government has confirmed it has received the review it ordered on replacement for the Air Force’s CF-18s. The report was written by senior government bureaucrats, with support from an outside panel of specialists.
Public Works Minister Diane Finley has steadfastly refused to indicate how the government will proceed, pointing out that ministers are still reviewing the details on options, industrial benefits and costs.
But Reuters reported on June 5 that the review concluded the government should not hold a competition and instead proceed with the purchase of the F-35. The same day, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation reported that while a decision is expected sometime after June 10, the review did not specify which fighter aircraft the government should select.
Mike Barton, a spokesman for Lockheed Martin Canada, said he had no information on whether the Reuters report, filed out of Washington, is accurate. “We’re waiting for government direction,” he said.
In 2010, Canada’s Conservative Party government committed to purchasing 65 F-35s, but the acquisition soon became a political albatross around the neck of Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
Opposition Parliament members alleged his government misled Canadians on the F-35’s price and performance. The country’s auditor general produced a report in April 2012 that found Department of National Defence officials withheld key information from Parliament about the F-35, underestimated costs, and didn’t follow proper procurement rules.
In December 2012, the government, under continuing fire over questions about the increasing cost of the F-35s, announced it would put the procurement on a temporary hold and conduct a review of other aircraft.
But even as that process was underway, senior Air Force officers were publicly stating the service was preparing for the eventual delivery of the F-35.
Lockheed Martin has also noted that Canada is still a partner in the program.
According to Reuters, the review noted that a new tender would take three years to complete, which would force the Air Force to spend about CAN $20 million (US $18 million) per plane to keep its Boeing CF-18s flying.
But representatives from other aircraft manufacturers, including Dassault and Boeing, have challenged similar claims. They noted that during the review the government gathered large amounts of information on aircraft that could be contenders in replacing the CF-18s.
“Practically speaking, a competition can happen fast,” said Yves Robins, Dassault Aviation’s senior vice president of EU and NATO affairs. ■