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And then there were three. Airbus Defence and Space has withdrawn the Eurofighter Typhoon from the competition to replace the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) fighter fleet of CF-188 Hornets.
Airbus and the United Kingdom’s Ministry of Defence informed the Canadian government on Aug. 30 following a “detailed review of the request for proposal (RFP)” issued on July 23, Airbus said in a statement.
The company cited two factors that prompted the decision to withdraw following reviews of both the draft RFPs and the final document.
“First, a detailed review has led the parties to conclude that NORAD security requirements continue to place too significant of a cost on platforms whose manufacture and repair chains sit outside the United States-Canada 2-EYES community.”
The second concern was the fact that “the significant recent revision of industrial technological benefits (ITB) obligations does not sufficiently value the binding commitments the Typhoon Canada package was willing to make, and which were one of its major points of focus.”
Both the U.K. MoD and Airbus Defence and Space acknowledged the complexity of the project and thanked the future Fighter Capability Project Office for its “commitment to transparency” and “the thoroughly professional nature of the competition.”
Despite the decision, Airbus reiterated its commitment to Canadian aerospace and defence programs. The company is in the process of delivering the first of 16 fixed-wing search and rescue aircraft, the CC-295, that will replace the CC-115 Buffalo and CC-130H Hercules, and is positioned for the RCAF’s Future Aircrew Training Program.
“Airbus Defence and Space is proud of our longstanding partnership with the government of Canada, and of serving our fifth home country’s aerospace priorities for over three decades,” said Simon Jacques, president of Airbus Defence and Space Canada, in a statement. “Together we continue in our focus of supporting the men and women of the Canadian Armed Forces, growing skilled aerospace jobs across the country and spurring innovation in the Canadian aerospace sector.”
The departure of the Typhoon leaves three of the original five qualified aircraft in the running to provide 88 new fighter jets: The Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II, the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, and the Saab JAS 39 Gripen E. Proposals must be submitted by spring 2020 and a contract is expected in 2022.
Dassault Aviation informed the Government on Nov. 8, 2018, that it was withdrawing the Rafale from the competition, citing concerns about meeting Canadian requirements for interoperability with U.S. forces.
While the Airbus decision was not a surprise to some who have been following the Future Fighter Capability Project — the company went public with its concerns regarding late changes to the ITB evaluation process that allowed the F-35 to compete — the withdrawal of the Typhoon could be a worry for government officials hoping to have a European jet among the eventual bidders.
“Of the original three European competitors, Airbus with the Eurofighter flying in the U.K. [was] the closest to the level of interoperability the RCAF needs for the next fighter,” said David Perry, vice-president and senior analyst with the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, noting the Typhoon operates within the Five-Eyes intelligence network of the U.S., U.K., Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
“There was a hope that because they had cracked the Five-Eyes code … they would be able to provide a solution that would be Two-Eyes (U.S. and Canada) compliant. The fact that they withdrew and cited that specifically might cause a bit of concern,” he said.
Whether that requirement also deters Saab remains to be seen. The company continues to express interest in the project and the Gripen C/D variant operated by the Swedish, Hungarian and Czech air forces works regularly with U.S. fighters in NATO operations and exercises.
Perry noted that Saab “will have to work through a lot of challenges to be able to put forward a proposal that does meet that Two-Eyes level of interoperability” that the Canadian government will be seeking.
“[For] the right reasons, the government wants to be assured that you can make that work,” he said. “It is definitely a disadvantage if you don’t start inside the [Two-Eyes] tent.”