22 juillet 2019 | Local, Aérospatial

Fighter jet firms mull pullout from Canadian competition – F-35 could be last plane standing


Airbus and Boeing may pull out of a bidding process to supply Canada with new fighter jets because they say the contest is unfairly tilted toward Lockheed Martin's F-35, Reuters has reported.

Officials with Saab have expressed similar concerns.

The news comes as the request for proposals (bids) is expected to be released soon.

Boeing and Airbus have now formally written to the federal government expressing concerns about the current requirements, according to Reuters. Pat Finn, the Assistant Deputy Minister for Materiel at the Department of National Defence, has confirmed one of the companies sent a formal letter but he didn't provide details.

It's no secret Saab, Airbus and Boeing are upset with the changes made to the competition after the Pentagon threatened to pull the F-35 out of the $19 billion competition. Officials with Lockheed Martin's three competitors say the Canadian government went overboard to please the Pentagon and the bid package is now designed so the F-35 would emerge as the clear winner.

That would make the Royal Canadian Air Force happy since it has always wanted the F-35 stealth fighter.

The Liberal government has committed to purchasing 88 new fighter jets.

The competition was launched on Dec. 12, 2017. Four fighter jets are to be considered. Those include the F-35, the Super Hornet, the Eurofighter Typhoon and the Gripen.

In the fall of 2018 Dassault Aviation pulled out as a potential bidder. The company had planned to offer the Rafale but decided against competing the aircraft because of the extensive requirements for interoperability with the U.S. military.

The first delivery of the jets is expected in the mid-2020s with the full capability available in the early 2030s, according to the DND document.

The requirements for a new Canadian fighter jet put emphasis on strategic attack and striking at ground targets during foreign missions, according to federal government procurement documents obtained by Postmedia.

While the Liberal government has been highlighting the need to buy the jets to protect Canadian airspace and meet the country's commitments to the U.S.-Canadian North American Aerospace Defence Command, the procurement criteria, currently in draft form, provides additional weight to those aircraft that can excel at ground attack for overseas operations. That criteria is seen to favour Lockheed Martin's F-35 stealth jet, say those industry representatives allied with Lockheed's rivals.

But Finn, the Department of National Defence's procurement chief, says there is such a wide variety of requirements to meet 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 in a recent interview. “That's why we say it's the whole piece” that will be considered in the competition.

Some will dismiss the latest news about companies threatening to pullout of the competition as a bluff or a last-ditch effort to force changes on the request for proposal package, which is expected to be released in a week or so.

That is one scenario. The other scenario is this: the effort to prepare a bid is expected to cost each firm about $15 million and involve up to 30 staff members. It is an extensive process. If Canada's request for proposals is so tilted towards the F-35 – or seen to be tilted – then companies will think twice about committing to that process.



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