WASHINGTON — Canada on Monday announced plans to buy 88 F-35A Joint Strike Fighters for CA$19 billion (U.S. $14 billion).
Defence Minister Anita Anand said in an online briefing the Royal Canadian Air Force would receive its first four Lockheed Martin-made F-35s in 2026, with the next six in 2027 and another six in 2028. The remainder would come in subsequent years.
The fifth-generation fighters will replace Canada’s current fleet of CF-18 Hornets, the Royal Canadian Air Force’s version of the F/A-18, Anand said. Canada expects the full F-35 fleet to be delivered in time for the service to phase the older fighters out by the end of 2032.
Anand said Canada has procured Australian F/A-18 fighters to supplement its CF-18s in the meantime. Canada plans to upgrade its CF-18s as part of the Hornet extension project, to enable them to last until 2032.
Anand said this purchase will be the Air Force’s largest fleet investment in the last three decades, and is necessary given Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and China’s “increasingly assertive behavior in the Indo-Pacific.”
“The F-35 is a modern, reliable and agile fighter aircraft used by our closest allies in missions across the globe,” Anand said. “It is the most advanced fighter on the market, and it is the right aircraft for our country.”
Canada first said it would buy the F-35 aircrat in March 2022.
The U.S. military and Lockheed applauded Canada’s announcement in a statement from the company.
“Canada is our friend and a close ally,” said U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. Mike Schmidt, the program executive officer for the F-35 Joint Program Office. “The F-35 is the best in the world, providing unmatched interoperability to America, Canada and the additional 15 nations that have selected the fighter. It is a global game-changer. Through power projection, the F-35 is at the tip of the spear for deterrence. Its forward presence will continue to ensure that potential adversaries choose diplomacy over armed conflict.”
“We are honored the Government of Canada has selected the F-35, and we look forward to continuing our partnership with the Royal Canadian Air Force and the Canadian defense industry to deliver and sustain the aircraft,” said Bridget Lauderdale, vice president and general manager for Lockheed’s F-35 program. “The selection of [the] F-35 strengthens allied airpower in Canada, North America and around the world.”
The selection amounts to a reversal for the administration of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who said before assuming office in 2015 that Canada would not buy the F-35. Anand said Monday that the aircraft has since “matured.”
“We see now that many of our allies … are using the F-35,” Anand explained. “I am focused on ensuring that we deliver for the Canadian Armed Forces and for our country, as well as our multilateral obligations. And with this aircraft, which as I said has matured, we are doing just that.”
Canada has confidence in Lockheed’s ability to deliver F-35s on time so the country can retire its CF-18s, Anand said, noting that she has no concerns over the related supply chain.
Anand acknowledged Canada’s colder temperatures make for a “unique” operating environment, and said the F-35 was selected after a “robust” decision process that took the weather into account. She pointed to Norway’s success in flying the fighter, as well as the United States’ experience flying it in Alaska, adding that Canada will take steps to ensure its F-35s can operate in the Arctic.
Canada will ensure its F-35s have drag chute capabilities to land on “short, icy, wet Arctic runways,” Anand said, and that its fighters have true north navigation capabilities, rather than magnetic north, to allow it to fly accurately deep into the Arctic.
Anand said Canada will build operational and training squadron facilities, including maintenance bays and simulator training, at two of its military bases: Bagotville in Quebec and Cold Lake in Alberta.
Anand also said Canada is investing in a series of infrastructure upgrades nationwide to better support North American Aerospace Defense Command and F-35 operations.
“Together these projects will sharpen our military edge to keep Canadians safe, and they will create economic opportunities for our country,” Anand said.
She added that the F-35 acquisition and initial maintenance could contribute more than CA$425 million to the local economy each year, as well as create nearly 3,300 jobs annually over 25 years.
Companies in Canada have already secured nearly $3 billion from the country’s participation in the F-35 program, Anand said, which will grow further as Canada increases its participation.
Stephen Losey is the air warfare reporter for Defense News. He previously covered leadership and personnel issues at Air Force Times, and the Pentagon, special operations and air warfare at Military.com. He has traveled to the Middle East to cover U.S. Air Force operations.