WASHINGTON — The bids are in for Canada’s fighter competition, and three companies will go head-to-head for the chance to build 88 new jets.

The Canadian government on Friday confirmed that the field is down to two American entrants — Lockheed Martin’s F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and Boeing’s F/A-18E/F Super Hornet — as well as Swedish aerospace manufacturer Saab’s Gripen E. All companies submitted proposals before the July 31 deadline.

The contest is scheduled to be decided in 2022, with the first aircraft delivery projected in 2025. Up to CA$19 billion (U.S. $14 billion) is up for grabs.

“Our government committed to purchasing a full fleet of 88 aircraft to be able to meet our NORAD [North American Aerospace Defense Command] and NATO obligations simultaneously,” Canadian Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan said in a statement. “Efficient and modern fighter jets are an integral part of any air force and we continue to work diligently to make sure that we provide the members of the Royal Canadian Air Force the tools they need to protect Canada, both at home and abroad.”

Canada could downselect to two bidders in spring 2021 after an initial evaluation of proposals, though it could keep all three companies as options until the final selection of a single bidder in 2022, the Canadian government said in statement.

The competing companies must submit proposals that offer economic benefits to Canadian defense contractors and other businesses, as industrial incentives and offsets make up 20 percent of the criteria under evaluation. The proposals will also be evaluated on each aircraft’s capability and cost, which will be weighed at 60 percent and 20 percent respectively.

The new fighter will replace the Royal Canadian Air Force’s fleet of aging CF-18s.

For its proposal, Saab will partner with Canadian defense firms IMP Aerospace & Defence, CAE, and Peraton Canada, and will offer a competitive package of industrial and technological benefits, the company announced.

“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 defence requirements, offering exceptional performance and advanced technical capabilities,” said Jonas Hjelm, who heads Saab’s aeronautics business.

As a partner nation of the F-35 program, Canada has contributed funding for the development of the Joint Strike Fighter and is involved in the production of the jet. In Lockheed’s statement confirming the bid, the firm said the F-35 program would support an estimated 150,000 jobs in Canada over its life span.

“The 5th Generation F-35 would transform the Royal Canadian Air Force fleet and deliver the capabilities necessary to safeguard Canadian skies,” said Greg Ulmer, Lockheed’s F-35 program executive vice president. “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.”

Boeing’s argument for its Super Hornet Block III was simple: The Royal Canadian Air Force already operates F/A-18s, and buying the latest version of the Super Hornet is a proven, affordable option that will allow the service to reuse existing infrastructure and reduce sustainment costs.

“We have a partnership with Canada that spans more than 100 years. We don’t take that lightly. The response we submitted today 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,” said Jim Barnes, Boeing’s director of Canada fighter sales. “Our proven, two-engine design can operate in the harshest environments and provide support no matter where the mission takes its pilots. That, coupled with Boeing’s 100% guaranteed industrial plan, will also deliver long term, well-paying jobs.”

Valerie Insinna is Defense News' air warfare reporter. She previously worked the Navy/congressional beats for Defense Daily, which followed almost three years as a staff writer for National Defense Magazine. Prior to that, she worked as an editorial assistant for the Tokyo Shimbun’s Washington bureau.

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