Canada Is Having Trouble Resisting America's F-35 Stealth Fighter

Michael Peck

Key point: Canada has sometimes charted a different defense procurement path than its Big Brother to the south.

Canada may be the next nation to buy the F-35 stealth fighter.

The F-35’s competitors are dwindling.

In August, Britain’s Ministry of Defense and European manufacturer Airbus withdrew the Eurofighter from Canada’s competition to pick a replacement for its 35-year-old CF-18 fighters. In 2018, France’s Dassault withdrew the Rafale from the contest.

That just leaves three contenders: Lockheed Martin’s F-35, Boeing’s F/A-18 Super Hornet and Swedish manufacturer Saab’s Gripen. The winner is slated to receive a CA$19 billion (U.S. $15 billion) contract for 88 jets in 2022.

David Pugliese, who covers defense for the Ottawa Citizen, has chronicled how the F-35’s competitors have dropped out one by one. In May, Canada’s Department of National Defense changed the procurement rules after the U.S. warned that the F-35 program barred the aircraft from being sold to nations who promised industrial benefits in return for selecting the Lightning II.

“Under the F-35 agreement, partner nations such as Canada are prohibited from demanding domestic companies receive specific work on the fighter jet,” Pugliese explained. “Instead, Canadian firms compete and if they are good enough, they receive contracts. Over the last 12 years, Canadian firms have earned more than $1.3 billion in contracts to build F-35 parts. But there are no guarantees.”

“Airbus was willing to outline and guarantee specific industrial benefits for Canada,” Pugliese added. “That was the way previous defense procurements had worked.”

Another hurdle was a new requirement that the winning fighter must show it would be integrated into the joint U.S.-Canadian air defense system. While probably not an issue for the Super Hornet, it would surely have been one for the European contenders. Canadian media pointed out that “Airbus would have been required to show how it planned to integrate the Eurofighter Typhoon into the U.S.-Canadian system without knowing the system’s full technical details.

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