Canada circles back to Lockheed for F-35s

“[The jets] are going to contribute to our multilateral alliances, both here on the North American continent and in terms of our … NATO capabilities, ”Defense Minister Anita Anand told reporters in Ottawa.

The Trudeau government decision follows a competition that had narrowed the field to the F-35 and the Swedish Saab Gripen-E. Canada calls the fighter jet purchase the RCAF’s most significant investment in more than 30 years.

Canada’s long-awaited fighter jet announcement comes with Trudeau poised to boost military spending in his government’s upcoming budget. The prime minister recently signaled that his budget, anticipated in April and perhaps as soon as next week, will increase defense investments in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

NATO estimates Canada spent 1.39 percent of its GDP in 2021 on defense, well short of the alliance’s 2-percent target. The Canadian government has been criticized at home and by partners like the United States for not spending enough on defense.

Anand noted Monday that Canada’s hunt for new fighters began well before Russia’s war on Ukraine. Asked if Canada’s C $ 19 billion budget for the purchase still stands, she said “details on costing will be further refined.”

Canada’s engagement with Lockheed is not a done deal. The government will enter final negotiations with the US manufacturer that could see the first F-35 delivered to Canada by 2025.

Simon Page, assistant deputy minister of defense at the procurement department, told the press conference that the government hopes to ink a contract in 2022, though any deal will likely take at least seven months.

Just a few years ago, the Trudeau’s Liberals ruled out the F-35 as an option.

In 2015, Trudeau pledged, if elected, to ditch an agreement struck by his Conservative predecessors to acquire F-35s. At the time, Trudeau also said he would not buy the Lockheed planes and that he intended to open a new procurement process to find a cheaper option.

Under Stephen Harper, the Conservative government had signed a controversial, sole-sourced contract with Lockheed in 2010 to buy the F-35s.

Procurement Minister Filomena Tassi told reporters Monday that she will always lean toward a competitive process.

“It drives the bidders, no matter what procurement you’re looking at, to come forward with their best possible bid,” Tassi said, arguing that the companies were given lots of time to make strong pitches.

Trudeau’s Liberals announced the new process in 2016.

Tassi was asked Monday whether the fact that it took more than a decade to come to the same result for the fighter jet procurement shows the file was politicized.

“I would actually argue to the contrary on that,” said Tassi, who also insisted she did not know which manufacturer was chosen until Monday morning. “We have made it clear that competition was really important in this process.”

Canada narrowed its field of potential fighters in recent months with the exclusion of Boeing’s F / A-18 Block III Super Hornet, a decision that left the F-35 and the Gripen-E.

As an interim solution, Canada purchased 18 second-hand F-18 fighter jets a few years ago from Australia.

The government has been preparing operating bases for the future fighter aircraft at 4 Wing Cold Lake in Alberta and 3 Wing Bagotville in Quebec.

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