Boeing’s F/A-18 Super Hornet, left, and Lockheed Martin’s F-35 are vying for the chance to be Canada’s next-generation fighter. Mike Luedey Photos
The 2016 Abbotsford International Airshow became the stage for both Boeing and Lockheed to demonstrate, exhibit and sell why their next generation fighters are right for Canada.
The story started when Boeing announced it was going to display the F-18E/F Super Hornet at the Abbotsford airshow. Both the United States Navy’s VFA-122 F/A-18Fs, from Naval Air Station Lemoore in California and the Boeing Corporate Demonstration Team brought the latest Block II Super Hornets, led by renowned test pilot Ricardo Traven. Traven is also a former fighter pilot that flew CF-188 Hornets in the Royal Canadian Air Force.
A few weeks before the show, Lockheed announced it was going to bring to Canada for the first time two F-35 Lightning II fighters to Abbotsford as well. These aircraft came from the 34 Fighter Squadron based at Hill Air Force Base in Utah. This is the first United States Air Force F-35 Squadron to obtain initial operational capability (IOC). This was accomplished after weeks of work at Mountain Home Air Force Base in Idaho.
Was it a coincidence that Lockheed brought the F-35 to Abbotsford after Boeing’s announcement?
Perhaps not, as the F-35 is a potential replacement for Canada’s aging fighter fleet. During the 2015 election, Liberal leader Justin Trudeau promised to cancel the F-35 acquisition in favour of “more affordable” alternatives.
Lockheed Martin’s F-35 fighter made an appearance at the Abbotsford International Airshow. Jeff Wilson Photo
Since they were elected, the Liberals have also reportedly considered acquiring the Super Hornet as an interim replacement for the CF-188.
During the Abbotsford airshow, Skies had the opportunity to speak with both Roberto Valla, Boeing’s vice-president of global sales in Canada; and Jack Crisler vice-president of F-35 business development and strategy integration at Lockheed Martin.
While spending time with each of these corporate executives, Skies asked a series of questions aimed at understanding more around each company’s offering.
Q: What are the costs involved including engine(s) if Canada purchases your aircraft? [Acquisition, operating and modification costs (to fulfill some of Canada’s unique requirements)].
Lockheed Martin: The acquisition cost of the F-35A was US$100 million per airframe when the Conservative Party announced its intention to acquire the F-35. Lockheed stated that the price will decrease to around US$85 million per airframe by the time the Block 4 airframes are being delivered in 2020. That is for a fully combat configured airframe.
If Canada stays with the 65 airframe purchase, the initial acquisition cost could drop by $15 million a copy depending on the airframe chosen and any modifications required for Canada.
Lockheed uses a similar three-part description as Boeing to address the logistics and operating costs. The difference as described is that the F-35 has been built to be an easy transition for existing operators of legacy type fighters.
Boeing’s F/A-18 Super Hornet also made an appearance. Jeff Wilson Photo
The current estimate cost per flight hour is $32,000/hour for the F-35A compared to $22,000/hour for the CF-188.
Lockheed believes that the F-35A delivers on Canada’s requirements, with the only modification to be considered is the method that Canada will carry out air-to-air refueling in the future.
Boeing: Boeing addressed this question in three parts: 1) initial purchase cost per airframe; 2) stand-up costs, including training and infrastructure cost; and 3) sustainment of the airframe over the life span of the aircraft. Boeing would not disclose the initial acquisition cost.
The infrastructure costs would be minimal as operating the Super Hornet does not require any hangar or support equipment changes to that of the CF-188. This was a requirement that the U.S. Navy required when buying the F-18E/Fs and replacing their legacy F/A-18A/Cs.
The current estimated cost per flight hour is $17,000/hour for the F-18E/F compared to $22,000 for the CF-188.
Boeing believes that there would minimal if any modifications required to the current Block II F/A-18E/Fs to meet Canada’s requirements.
As the F/A-18E/Fs use the same method of refueling as the current CF-18s, Canada can continue to use the existing CC-130H(T) Hercules and two CC-150T Polaris tanker aircraft if the F/A-18E/F is purchased.
Q: What are the industrial benefits to Canada if we select your aircraft?
Lockheed Martin: Canada, as an active member of the F-35 program, has benefited to an amount of approximately US$850 million of F-35 business year-to-date (YTD). There are 170 Canadian sub-contractors currently working on the program.
This fall Lockheed will release a contract in support of the F-35 program that will put the Canadian contribution to the program in excess of US$1 billion.
Lockheed Martin executive Jack Crisler says the F-35 brings a fifth-generation fighter to Canada for the price of current fourth-generation fighters. Jeff Wilson Photo
A key fact is in addition, Canada will benefit not only from the industry offsets for the initial 65 airframe purchase, but for all of the 3,000-plus F-35 airframes that are planned to be built. This could amount to billions of revenue for Canadian Industry over the lifetime of the program.
Boeing: Boeing is prepared to provide an equal amount of industry business to Canada, that is at least equal to the amount of the estimated F-35 purchase, which is currently at US$5 billion to US$6 billion.
In addition, Canada currently has 450 subcontractors supporting the Boeing commercial aircraft business.
Q: What are the opportunities to transfer intellectual property and technical data to support the aircraft?
Lockheed Martin: Lockheed said there is an approach that every fighter manufacturer takes in intellectual property and technical data transfer to the country acquiring the aircraft. An issue that Lockheed also faces is the classified nature of the technology that is incorporated into the F-35 Lightning II. This includes the radar, targeting, and stealth technologies incorporated in the jet.
Q: Weaponry – are current CF-188 armament stocks compatible? If new weapons are required, what would be the cost of an initial stock?
Lockheed Martin: Lockheed acknowledged that the current weapons carried by the CF-188 are compatible with the F-35, but that the F-35 offers a great selection of both air-to-air and air-to-ground weaponry.
Some of the weapons the F-35 carries require enhanced radar and targeting systems to deliver the weapons on the target.
Boeing’s Roberto Valla sees the Super Hornet as the right choice for Canada based on the minimal cost of transition from the legacy CF-188. Jeff Wilson Photo
The current CF-188 fleet carries the Lockheed sniper pod for targeting with guided ammunitions such as the GBU Paveway weapon, and the enhanced sniper targeting system is incorporated into the airframe of the F-35. Removing the need to use an external hard point on the airframe.
Lockheed would not comment on the cost of weaponry, adding that is a question for munitions providers.
Boeing: Boeing acknowledged the current weapons carried by the CF-188 are compatible with the F/A-18E/F Block II aircraft.
As with the F-35, the latest generation of F/A-18 Block IIs carries a wider selection of weapons than the CF-188, and adds a greater multi-mission capability than the legacy CF-188 currently does.
Boeing’s offering carries all of its weapons and fuel tanks externally on the fuselage and wing hard points, whereas the F-35 carries the majority of its weapons internally to maintain its stealth capability.
Renowned test pilot Ricardo Traven, left, led the Boeing Corporate Demonstration Team in Abbotsford. Jeff Wilson Photo
But in time of war it would need to use its external hard points to extend its range and carry a broader variety of weapons needed in today’s variety of battle fronts.
Q: What is the production capacity of your aircraft program from 2017 to 2030—any planned closure of production line? If yes, what is the plan for spares and support?
Lockheed Martin: Lockheed Martin is increasing production of the F-35 with 207 airframes delivered as of Feb. 1, 2016. Current backlog is 3,140 F-35A, F-35B and F-35Cs. The longer Canada delays purchasing the F-35 will push out the delivery dates beyond the initial requirement date of 2020-2023.
Boeing: Boeing is still delivering both the F/A-18E/F/G Super Hornet and Growler airframes to the U.S. Navy and the Royal Australian Air Force. Boeing has no immediate plan to close the Super Hornet production line. Boeing will be able to deliver the Super Hornet to Canada within the dates that Canada requires to transition to the new airframe purchased.
Q: What are the maintenance man hours per flight hour?
Lockheed Martin: Lockheed was unable to provide this data during the interview.
However, the F-35 incorporates self-diagnostic systems such as health and usage monitoring systems (HUMS), components, and automatically relays information to the autonomic logistics information system (ALIS), Lockheed’s system to reduce the maintenance man hours per flight on the F-35.
Lockheed is targeting 10 maintenance man hours per flight hour.
An F-16 and an A-10 pilot said they each spent approximately 40 hours of transition time on the F-35. Jeff Wilson Photo
Boeing: Boeing was unable to provide this data during the interview.
A 2012 U.S. Defense review of the F/A-18E/F showed that the maintenance man hours per flight hour was 5.9 hours. Canada could see cost savings in this area almost twice what is being experienced with the current CF-188 fleet.
Q: How long would be required to train a pilot on your fighter?
Lockheed Martin: Transition time varies depending on the current aircraft the pilot is flying and experience.
In an interview with both an F-16 and A-10 pilot who are now part of 34 Fighter Squadron, they said they each spent approximately 40 hours of transition time. The F-16 pilot transitioned to the F-35 at Eglin Air Force Base three years ago and had nothing but praise for how the program as ramped up with in the U.S. Air Force. The A-10 pilot was amazed how well the systems were integrated in the F-35 compared to other aircraft in the U.S. Air Force inventory.
Boeing: The current transition time from the legacy F/A-18 to the F/A-18E/F is a minimum of 15 hours and most of that time is spent with the improved radar and weapons systems.
Q: Why is your aircraft the right choice for Canada?
Lockheed Martin: Crisler’s view is that the F-35 brings a fifth-generation fighter to Canada for the price of current fourth-generation fighters. It provides the Canadian aerospace industry with sustained business well into 2030 and beyond and will allow Canada to meet its commitments to both the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD).
And when Canada decides on the CF-188 replacement, the cost of the F-35 in combat configuration will be US$85 million or less per airframe.
Boeing: Valla sees the Super Hornet as the right choice for Canada based on the minimal cost of transition from the legacy CF-188 in areas such as logistics, maintenance, pilot conversion and survivability flying the NORAD northern missions.
Industry benefits will be in excess of the total acquisition costs of the replacement aircraft, and it will ultimately provide Canada with a fighter that is available now, at the right price.