David Pugliese, writing in the Ottawa Citizen, says that “On Aug. 30, the United Kingdom’s Ministry of Defence and Airbus Defence and Space informed the Canadian government of their decision to withdraw from Canada’s future fighter competition. Airbus had been offering Canada the Eurofighter … [and] … At the time the Canadian Press news service reported the Eurofighter withdrawal was a surprise … [but, Mr Pugliese says] … It wasn’t … [because] … For the last nine months the various competing firms, Boeing, Airbus and Saab have been sounding the alarm about how the fighter jet process is structured and their worry that it is stacked in favour of the Lockheed Martin F-35. The RCAF, which originally selected the F-35 as the CF-18 replacement before that selection was put on hold by the previous Conservative government because of cost and technical issues, came up with the new requirements. Industry representatives say these requirements highlight the strengths of the F-35 such as stealth and a first strike capability.“
Mr Pugliese says that “The primary role of the new fighter jets is to protect North America, or so government officials have said. Lockheed Martin’s industry rivals question how stealth and a first strike capability fit into that role.” That assertion is, probably, based on this:
It is from Chapter 5 of the Liberal campaign platform in 2015 (page 70) but, on the same page, the Liberals also said that their policy is that:
A “combat capability” might be last on the list, but it is still there, and the current (Trudeau Liberal) defence policy statement, Strong, Secure, Engaged, says (page 38) that “Military threats across a range of systems such as advanced fighters and anti-access area denial (A2AD) surface-to-air missile systems, in addition to evolving cyber threats, are making the environment within which the Canadian Armed Forces operates more lethal and complex. As such, the Canadian Armed Forces requires a fighter fleet that is capable, upgradeable, resilient and interoperable with our allies and partners to ensure Canada continues to meet its NORAD and NATO commitments in the future. The fighter aircraft fleet is a critical Canadian Armed Forces capability necessary to enforce Canada’s sovereignty, enable continental security, and contribute to international peace and stability … [and] … In addition to the quality of the fighter capability required, the Royal Canadian Air Force requires sufficient numbers of fighter aircraft to ensure control of Canada’s vast airspace, while maintaining an ability to simultaneously contribute to international operations, conduct pilot training, and to allow for maintenance and repair. The fleet size of 88 fighter aircraft will provide the necessary number of aircraft to fulfill Canada’s commitments, including maintenance and readiness training.” No matter how some political operators may have tried to edit it out, a broad range of combat capabilities ~ that what phrases like “contribute to international peace and stability,” and “contribute to international operations” mean ~ is official government policy. It’s an operational requirement. When the senior officials in the procurement department (Public Services and Procurement Canada) write a request for proposal (RFP) (and companies will have to spend tens of millions of dollars just to write their proposals) they consult with senior defence officials and military officers to put the various and sundry operational requirements in some sort of sensible order. It ought not to be surprising that to learn that, unlike politicians on the campaign trail, government bureaucrats and military officers put a lot of thought into what is most important and what is least. They do risk analyses and they use sophisticated computer simulations to “game” various scenarios and I, for one, am not surprised that being able to survive a “first strike” (attack a defended target) mission might be higher up the list than just flying an intercept mission in Canadian airspace.
The fact is that the government said, explicitly, that it wants a multi-role aircraft and while stealth and a first-strike capability may not be high on the list of requirements for the NORAD role they are, most likely, a very high priority requirement for other roles. My guess is that Boeing, which is offering the venerable F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and Saab which proposes its F-39E/F Gripen may have concluded before the competition even begins, that Lockheed-Martin‘s F-35 Lightning II is the aircraft most likely to win the “fair and open” competition. My guess is that’s why France and Airbus/UK Ministry of Defence pulled the Rafale and Eurofighter Typhoon out the bidding.
David Pugliese concludes that “It is still unclear, however, whether Boeing or Saab will even continue in the competition … [but] … Bids must be submitted by the spring of 2020 but there is a growing sense among the defence industry that the F-35 will ultimately be selected as the new aircraft for the RCAF.“
I have said, over and over again, that I don’t know which aircraft is “best” for Canada. No one does ~ not the prime minister, not the chief of the defence staff … no-one. A team of engineers, accountants and other experts will analyze bids against published criteria and select the “best” (or least “worst”) of the choice and they will recommend that choice to the cabinet. The cabinet, for maybe just the Prime Minister’s Office, will decide which aircraft Canad will buy and how many we will get.