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Approximately 200 representatives from 180 companies–Canadian and international–and foreign governments gathered in Ottawa on Jan. 22 to hear the government’s roadmap for replacing the Royal Canadian Air Force’s fleet of CF-188 Hornets.
The industry day was the first engagement with defence and aerospace companies since the Liberal government officially launched the Future Fighter Capability Project (FFCP) in December, and included briefings on the scope, general requirements, sustainability approach and industrial and technological benefits objectives of the $15 to $19 billion program.
According to PowerPoint slides presented at the event, the government remains committed to acquiring 88 advanced fighter aircraft, initial weapons and stores, supporting infrastructure, and thorough life sustainment, which will include initial spares, software and mission data support, mission planning and debriefing capability, materiel management, technical data and associated intellectual property rights, and training for both pilots and maintainers.
The overall acquisition budget and the length of and costs of the initial sustainment services contracts will be determined through engagement with suppliers, officials said. But the full lifecycle cost of the aircraft will be a key factor in the evaluation.
The briefing also provided an assessment of the global threat picture in which the new jet is expected to operate. Defence officials described an operational environment that will be more lethal and complex, complicated by an evolving cyber threat and contested control of the electro-magnetic spectrum. Adversaries are expected to deliver more advanced fighters and anti-access area denial (A2AD) surface-to-air missile systems, as well as other increasingly technologically advanced equipment.
“Our missions and roles and commitments have not changed,” one slide deck noted, emphasizing the importance of continuing to fulfil current NORAD and NATO requirements.
Among the critical criteria for the next jet will be seamless interoperability with key allies; the ability to upgrade to maintain an operational advantage over current and future threats; the range, endurance and speeds required in NORAD and NATO mission configurations; the ability to gather intelligence, detect, track, identify, assess in permissive and contested environments; and the survivability and lethality to be effective in those environments.
In particular, the RCAF emphasized interoperability and information processing, exploitation and dissemination with 5 Eyes and 2 Eyes allies. Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom, the United States and New Zealand comprise the first group, while Canada and the U.S. make up the second.
While that might seem to exclude non-U.S. aircraft from the competition, the requirement is common to many military procurements. Maj Gen Alain Pelletier, chief of fighter capability for the RCAF, said the government had been working with European and North American original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) for the past nine months to answer questions and refine the “path” for potential suppliers.
“They are going to be able to meet the requirements from a 5 Eyes/2 Eyes [interoperability] perspective,” he said.
The briefing also highlighted the need for a “growth path” to 2060 and beyond. That might have favoured the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II when the previous Conservative government committed to the Joint Strike Fighter, but other manufacturers have invested significantly in major modernization proposals in recent years that will see their jets operating well beyond the 2040s.
“They are familiar with the requirements, and other customers expect it as well, so I don’t believe this is something new. But it is something that is required by the Air Force to maintain its relevance with NATO and NORAD,” Pelletier told Skies.
“When we develop the solicitation documents…I think they will be able to tell us their [upgrade] plans and how they align with our future use of the airplane,” added Andre Fillion, chief of staff, materiel, at the Department of National Defence.
The government has asked all interested suppliers and supporting governments to sign up for a suppliers’ list by Feb. 9. Only companies on the list will be invited to submit bids when a request for proposals is issued in spring 2019. Five manufacturers are expected to participate in the process: Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Dassault, Saab and Eurofighter, a partnership of BAE Systems, Leonardo and Airbus Defence & Space.
While the use of a suppliers list is common to many procurement projects, the requirement that a foreign government rather than an OEM serve as the main point of contact is a new twist.
“The consideration for us has been the nature of the fighter capability that we are looking for, and the fact that the solution is necessarily going to involve some highly controlled technologies, and the requirements to exchange information at a significant security level,” explained Troy Crosby, the director general for major defence projects with Public Services and Procurement Canada. “To facilitate that, we are focusing our communication through foreign governments.”
It will also ensure the government deals directly with the aircraft operators. “[It] ensures we are working through an organization that has a real awareness and experience with the kind of solution we are looking for,” he added.
The use of a suppliers list is also intended to “motivate” OEMs and governments to form partnerships with Canadian industry, according to the briefing slides.
Industry representatives were told that a fairness monitor would oversee the ongoing engagement and solicitation process, and that all bidders would be subjected to the same evaluation criteria.
When the future fighter capability project was officially launched in December, the government said bidders would be at a disadvantage if they were assessed to have caused economic harm to Canada, a measure quickly labelled the “Boeing clause” for the company’s on-going dispute with Bombardier.
Boeing representatives did not attend the industry day, which was not mandatory, but an industry source said their interests were represented by the U.S. government. However, to continue with the process, the company will have to register as a supplier by the Feb. 9 deadline.
“We continue to believe that the Super Hornet is the low-risk, low-cost approach that has all the advanced capabilities the Royal Canadian Air Force needs now and well into the future,” said Boeing spokesperson Scott Day. “We will evaluate our participation in [the FFCP] after the government outlines the FFCP procurement approach, requirements and evaluation criteria.”
In 2014, the RCAF completed an extensive risk assessment of four of the potential bidders, evaluating each aircraft against the missions of the government’s defence strategy after the Conservatives were forced to pause and reassess the F-35 acquisition in 2012. An independent review committee at the time called the report a “deep and rich” options analysis.
How much of that work is transferable to the new procurement process is unclear, but Crosby said information gathered from previous engagements with industry has provided “a better appreciation and understanding of what is available in the market.
“What we need to do now is get deeply engaged with the potential suppliers once the suppliers list is created so we can formulate the solicitation documents in a way that they can respond to them effectively,” he said.
Once the supplier list is finalized, the companies and governments will be invited back to supplier day, with the goal to “get more into the details of how we are going to put the solicitation document together,” concluded Crosby.