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June 11, 2019 | Local, Aerospace, Security

Bidding criteria for Canada's $19B fighter jet competition will emphasize strategic attack and ground-strike capabilities — seeming to favour the F-35

David Pugliese

The criteria that will govern the selection of the winning bid to provide Canada's next fleet of fighter jets will prioritize strategic attack and foreign ground-strike capabilities, according to government documents obtained by Postmedia — guidelines that are seen to favour Lockheed Martin's controversial F-35.

In 2010 the Conservative government under Prime Minister Stephen Harper selected the F-35 to replace the Canadian Forces' aging CF-18s, but later abandoned the plan after concerns about the technology used for the plane and its growing cost. During the 2015 election campaign Justin Trudeau promised that a Liberal government would not purchase the F-35, at the same time vowing to hold an open competition for the purchase of the country's new jet. Once in office, however, the Liberals backed away from their promise to freeze out the F-35 and the aircraft is now seen as a front-runner in the upcoming competition, with many supporters in the Royal Canadian Air Force.

Though the Liberal government has highlighted the need to buy new jets to protect Canadian airspace and meet the country's commitments to NORAD, the procurement criteria obtained by Postmedia, currently in draft form, indicate the bidding process will assign additional weight to aircraft that excel at ground attack for overseas operations.

Those criteria are seen to favour Lockheed Martin's F-35 stealth jet, say industry representatives allied with Lockheed's rivals in the upcoming $19-billion competition. The evaluation criteria also place less emphasis on sustainability — something else that may play to the advantage of the F-35, which has been dogged by high maintenance bills.

But Pat Finn, the Department of National Defence's procurement chief, says there is such a wide variety of requirements to meet in the competition that while some aircraft might be seen to do well in some areas, they may not excel in others. “Somebody may be better in a high-end scenario but they're worst for cost,” Finn explained. “That's why we say it's the whole piece” that will be considered in the competition.

At this point four aircraft are expected to be considered: two U.S.-built aircraft, the F-35, and the Super Hornet, and two European planes, the Eurofighter Typhoon and the Gripen.

Finn said bidding companies must meet mandatory requirements when it comes to long-term sustainment of the planes.

But industry representatives, both from Lockheed Martin rivals and those not directly involved in the competition, point out that beyond the mandatory requirements there is little emphasis on the important area of long-term maintenance and sutainability. So a company with an aircraft that costs relatively little to maintain won't get that recognition in the competition, they claimed.

Finn said discussions are still ongoing with various companies and their feedback is being assessed. The request for proposals, which will outlined the final requirements for the aircraft, is expected to be released around mid-July, he added.

Royal Canadian Air force commander Lt.-Gen. Al Meinzinger said key capabilities for a new plane are survivability and having an operational advantage. “We are very confident we are actually meeting the requirements of NATO and NORAD,” he said, pointing to the requirements for the new aircraft. “Both of those missions are well represented.”

Canada already changed some of the industrial benefits criteria of the competition in May to satisfy concerns from the U.S. government that the F-35 would be penalized or couldn't be considered because of how that program was set up.

U.S. officials had warned that the F-35 development agreement Canada signed years ago prohibits partner nations from imposing requirements for industrial benefits. Under the F-35 agreement, partner nations such as Canada are prohibited from demanding domestic companies receive contracts for work on the fighter jet, those companies instead having to compete for work. Over the last 12 years, Canadian firms have earned more than $1.3 billion in contracts to build F-35 parts.

The changes made in May would now allow some of those F-35 contracts to be considered when weighing the industrial benefits offered by the planes.

The winning bidder will build 88 jets for Canada, and the first delivery is expected in the mid-2020s with the full capability available in the early 2030s, according to documents produced by the Department of National Defence.

https://nationalpost.com/news/bidding-criteria-for-canadas-19b-fighter-jet-competition-will-emphasize-strategic-attack-and-ground-strike-capabilities-seeming-to-favour-the-f-35

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