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Three proposals have been submitted to provide the Royal Canadian Air Force with a next generation fighter jet.
In what will be the most expensive Air Force investment in more than 30 years, the federal government is seeking 88 advanced fighters to replace a fleet of 94 aging CF-188 Hornets at a cost of between $15 billion to $19 billion.
The Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC) confirmed on July 31 that three government and industry consortia had met the bid deadline, which was extended twice in March and June because of COVID-19.
Sweden and Saab, in collaboration with MBDA and Rafael Advanced Defence Systems, are offering the Gripen E; the United States and Lockheed Martin, in partnership with Pratt & Whitney, are proposing the F-35A Lightning II; and the U.S. and Boeing, with a Canadian team of Peraton Canada, CAE, L3 Technologies MAS, GE Canada and Raytheon Canada, would deliver the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet.
Completing the future fighter acquisition was among three priority projects highlight by RCAF commander LGen Al Meinzinger, in a recent interview with Skies, along with the future aircrew training program and fixed-wing search and rescue aircraft.
Despite the current economic conditions, the Liberal government remains committed to purchasing the full 88 aircraft, Defence Minister Harjit S. Sajjan said in a statement.
“Efficient and modern fighter jets are an integral part of any air force and we continue to work diligently to make sure that we provide the members of the Royal Canadian Air Force the tools they need to protect Canada, both at home and abroad,” he said.
The government will, however, seek to generate the best possible economic return in “high value jobs” and growth of the defence supply chain. As part of the Industrial and Technological Benefits (ITB) policy, bidders will have to provide a value proposition demonstrating economic benefits. Fighter manufacturers offering contractual guarantees will be scored higher in the evaluation.
“This project represents a once-in-a-generation opportunity to support the competitiveness and growth of Canada’s aerospace and defence industries,” said Navdeep Bains, Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development. “Our government will evaluate each of these proposals based on their plans to invest in Canada’s economy and to support high-value Canadian jobs.”
Economic benefits will be worth 20 per cent of the final assessment, one of the highest in recent defence procurement history. Capability will be 60 per cent of the evaluation and cost will make up the remaining 20 per cent.
To ensure fairness, an independent monitor has been overseeing the entire process and during the evaluation, companies will have an opportunity to amend bids if they are non-compliant with mandatory criteria.
The government may enter into negotiations with one or more of the compliant bidders once the initial evaluation is completed, likely by spring 2021, and “request revised proposals,” according to PSPC. Final contract award is expected in 2022.
Saab in particular highlighted its industrial program designed to deliver high-tech jobs and business opportunities across Canada. “With Saab and Gripen, the [RCAF] will have full control of its fighter system. A guarantee to share key technology, in-country production, support and through-life enhancements will ensure that Canada’s sovereignty is enhanced for decades,” said Jonas Hjelm, senior vice president and head of Saab business area aeronautics.
Lockheed Martin claimed the F-35 would generate an estimated 150,000 jobs over the life of the program and connect Canadian industry to a global supply chain supporting a fleet that could exceed 3,200 aircraft.
In a news release, the company noted Canada’s “key role” in the development of the F-35 and said the aircraft would “transform” the RCAF. “The F-35’s unique mix of stealth and sensor technology will enable the [RCAF] to modernize their contribution to NORAD operations, ensure Arctic sovereignty and meet increasingly sophisticated global threats,” said Greg Ulmer, F-35 program executive vice president.
Jim Barnes, director of Canada fighter sales for Boeing Defense, Space & Security, pledged a 100 per cent guaranteed industrial plan that would “deliver long term, well-paying jobs.”
“We have a partnership with Canada that spans more than 100 years. We don’t take that lightly. The response we submitted today builds upon that great legacy and allows us to continue to bring the best of Boeing to Canada and the best of Canada to Boeing,” he said. “The Super Hornet is the most cost-effective and capable option for the FFCP, and a Super Hornet selection will help the RCAF meet their mission needs, while leveraging existing infrastructure to drive down the long-term sustainment cost of the aircraft.”
The evaluation of capability will involve a number of Air Force subject matter experts, but it won’t include a “fly-off,” said MGen Michel Lalumiere, chief of fighter capability. “We have a lot of information at our disposal which has informed that decision.”
Canada has been privy to information from the fighter procurement programs of allies and has been able to evaluate new aircraft capability as part of recent operations, he said. “Many of the capabilities we are projecting into our procurement effort … have had a chance to evolve in real time and we have been privy as a partner … to see it first hand. [We’re] not asking for anything haven’t already seen.”
As a first step in the capability assessment, the three contenders had to submit a “preliminary security offer” in early October 2019 explaining how they would meet 5 Eyes (Canada, U.S., U.K., Australia and New Zealand) and 2 Eyes (U.S. and Canada) security and interoperability requirements. In particular, the future fighter must integrate seamlessly into the U.S. Air Force’s evolving Multi-Domain Command and Control system and concept of operations, which will be employed by NORAD and U.S. Northern Command to defend North America.
Despite the disruptions caused by COVID-19, the Future Fight Capability Project office has been able to remain “on track” throughout the pandemic, said Lalumiere. The team is dispersed by design, drawing on expertise from across the RCAF fighter community and other government departments, so members already had a culture and mindset of working remotely. The three bidding teams were able to visit 3 Wing Bagotville, Que., and 4 Wing Cold Lake, Alta., in early December before finalizing their bids, but in-person contact after that was limited.
Completing all the necessary “virtual” meetings and governance processes to remain on schedule “has required more work … [and] took all the stakeholders to be very focused on that,” he said.