Canada yet to decide which fighter jet will replace CF-18

Jan. 8, 2014 at 3:09 PM   |   0 comments

OTTAWA, Jan. 8 (UPI) -- Canada may be edging toward calling a competition to replace its aging CF-18 air force jets amid competing claims and "war" between rival suppliers Boeing and Lockheed Martin, analysts say.

Canadian media say the Boeing Co.'s campaign for Canada choosing its Super Hornet as a replacement for the near obsolete CF-18 has focused on recent U.S. budget troubles as an argument for ditching Lockheed Martin's F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

Boeing has also cited existing compatibility of its aircraft systems with the Canadian air force requirements and ongoing collaborative projects that provide Canadian jobs.

The National Fighter Procurement Secretariat, likely to play a central role in the eventual choice of Canada's fighter fleet, recently received the military's assessments of the four competing fighter jets, Defense Industry reported.

Boeing's Super Hornet and the Lockheed Martin F-35A must also contend with rivals Rafale, produced by Dassault Aviation of France, and the Eurofighter Typhoon, made by the consortium of BAE Systems, EADS and Italy's Alenia Aermacchi. However, analysts say, the contest for Canada's future fighter fleet really boils down to the Super Hornet and F-35A.

"War heats up between Lockheed Martin and Boeing in bid to replace Canada's fighter jets," headlined the Ottawa Globe and Mail as rival executives made a beeline for the Canadian capital last year.

The battle between the two American giants has been fierce, with Lockheed Martin asserting its F-35 stealth fighter cannot be compared to any of its existing rivals, the newspaper said.

Lockheed Martin is arguing the F-35 is a "fifth-generation" fighter that is a full technological cycle ahead of all Western rivals, including Boeing's Super Hornet.

Boeing counters Lockheed Martin's use of the "fifth generation" moniker is a convenient marketing term.

Industry analysts now see the Canadian government edging toward a competition to give full airing to rival claims and to let Canada decide on the most cost-effective long-term solution for its air force.

In October, senior U.S. and European aviation executives urged Canada to throw the fighter contract "wide open to competition," the Montreal Gazette reported.

"If there is a competition, we will transfer all of our technology, including the intellectual property here, with no restrictions," Dassault Aviation Senior Vice President Yves Robins said in comments quoted by the Gazette.

Canada received 138 CF-18s from 1982 to 1988. Accidents and retirements have reduced the fleet to about 103, with only 79 upgraded F/A-18 AM/BM Hornets still operational, Defense Industry said.

The CF-18s are expected to be phased out from 2017 to 2023, Defense Industry said. Maintenance and upgrades will remain necessary until then, and possibly beyond.

Canada is an active partner in the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter development program, and has spent about $160 million on concept demonstration, system development and demonstration phases.

Canada may end up spending more than $550 million on production, sustainment and follow-on development phases of the F-35 program.

What's worrying Canadians, however, is the total cost of adopting the fighter as its air force's main fleet. Canada is widely expected to buy about 65 new F-35As but the cost estimates so far have varied wildly -- from $17 billion to more than $45 billion.

As the debate over the future fighter rages intermittently, both F-18 refurbishment plans and Canada's intentions regarding the F-35 have become mired in controversy.

"As timelines continue to slip, these two programs have become more interdependent -- and the F-35's selection less certain," Defense Industry said.

Vanguard Canada, an online forum for Canadian defense and security, said Ottawa already has hit the reset button on its quest for a replacement for the aging CF-18s. As expert assessments of competing offers near conclusion, the government may decide whether to hold an open competition, VanguardCanada.com said.

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