WASHINGTON — Canada’s auditor general, Michael Ferguson, is reviewing the country’s fighter jet programs in preparation for a future fighter jet competition in 2019. Ferguson and his team have reportedly been reviewing internal government records for several months, although it is unclear which programs are under investigation.
Since 2016, Canada has been preparing to procure new fighters to replace 76 F/A-18 Hornets that are quickly approaching the end of their service life.
A legal complaint filed by Boeing with the U.S. International Trade Commission against Canadian aerospace company Bombardier in May effectively blew up a deal in place for the American company to supply its northern neighbors with 18 new fighters in the interim before Canada made its decision on a more significant contract.
Boeing suffered a blow at the hands of the ITC on Friday when the trade body voted 4-0 in favor of Bombadier. The vote blocks a U.S. Department of Commerce ruling that would have imposed a nearly 300 percent tariff on Bombardier C Series imports, whose largest program customer is Delta Air Lines.
Last week, Boeing was absent from a Canadian industry day for the future fighter program, further signalling that the door is open for European suppliers to compete for the estimated $14 billion contract.
The Eurofighter Typhoon, Dassault Rafale and Saab’s Gripen E are possible alternative platforms that could be selected.
In an exclusive Defense News interview in November, the head of the Royal Canadian Air Force, Lt. Gen. Michael Hood, discussed the country’s plans to replace the service’s aging F/A-18s.
“The plan right now is to have a request for proposal out to industry by 2019. We’re in discussions and have been in discussions with a number of the people who are considering competing for that, and what I’d like to see is that accelerated as much as possible,” he said.
However, Hood's wish for speed is unlikely to be granted. While the hope was to award a contract by 2021 with delivery scheduled by 2025, documents released at last week’s industry day suggest the new delivery target date is set for 2031.
To maintain capability in the interim, Canada has agreed to purchase an undisclosed number of Australian F/A-18s. These planes, however, are already 30 years old and will need to undergo a service life extension program to keep them in the air.
Daniel Cebul is an editorial fellow and general assignments writer for Defense News, C4ISRNET, Fifth Domain and Federal Times.