Gripen, F/A-18, F-35 offered for Canada’s future fighter

Saab, Boeing and Lockheed Martin will do battle with each other as they seek to deliver 88 new fighters to Canada, which plans to begin replacing its ageing fleet of CF-188A/B Hornets by 2025.

The Canadian government confirmed on July 31 that the three companies had formally responded to the request for proposal (RFP) released by the nation for its Future Fighter Capability Project (FFCP) last summer.

CF-188A [Royal Canadian Air Force/Cpl Bryan Carter] #1
A Canadian CF-188A Hornet - serial 188757 (c/n 394, line number A329), belonging to the 401 Tactical Fighter Squadron - is marshalled by ground crew after arriving in Bodø, Norway, for Exercise Trident Junture in October 2018. RCAF/Cpl Bryan Carter

Harjit S Sajjan, Canada’s Minister of National Defence, said: “Through our fully costed and funded defence policy: ‘Strong, Secure, Engaged’, our government committed to purchasing a full fleet of 88 aircraft to be able to meet our NORAD and NATO obligations simultaneously.

“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 [(RCAF)] the tools they need to protect Canada, both at home and abroad,” he added.


Gripen E

Saab has joined forces with local and international defence firms in offering the Gripen E/F in fulfilling Canada’s next-generation fighter requirements. Dubbed the ‘Gripen for Canada Team’, the consortium comprises IMP Aerospace & Defence, CAE, Peraton Canada and GE Aviation. The supplier team includes Diehl Defence, MBDA and Rafael Advanced Defense Systems.

The Gripen E is the latest member of the Swedish-based defence firm’s JAS 39 family. Both the single-seat Gripen E and two-seat Gripen F variants of the multi-role fighter are currently on order with Brazil and Sweden. Other versions of the aircraft are in military service with the Czech Republic, Hungary, South Africa and Thailand.

Gripen E [Saab]
A pair of Gripen Es in flight. Saab

Jonas Hjelm, senior vice president and head of Saab Aeronautics, said: “Saab’s Gripen fighter is designed to operate in harsh environments and defeat the most advanced global threats. The system meets all of Canada’s specific defence requirements, offering exceptional performance and advanced technical capabilities.

“A unique element of the avionics design is that Gripen E’s system can be updated quickly, maintaining technological superiority against any adversary… 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,” Hjelm concluded.


F/A-18E/F Super Hornet

Boeing has teamed up with Peraton Canada, CAE, L3 Technologies, GE Aviation and Raytheon to offer its Block III-configured F/A-18E/F Super Hornet. The company boasts that the multi-role fighter is a “proven, affordable choice for the [RCAF]” with low procurement, flight hour and total life cycle costs.

Canadian F/A-18E/F Super Hornet [Boeing]
On July 31, Boeing released concept art of what the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet could look like in Canadian service. The company has dubbed the aircraft the CF-18E in line with Canada's aircraft naming tradition. Boeing

On July 31, Jim Barnes, director of Canada Fighter Sales at Boeing Defense, said: “We have a partnership with Canada that spans more than 100 years… 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.

“Our proven, two-engine design can operate in the harshest environments and provide support no matter where the mission takes its pilots. That, coupled with Boeing’s 100% guaranteed industrial plan, will also deliver long-term, well-paying jobs,” Barnes added.

The RCAF currently operates the CF-188A/B – a variant of the legacy version of the Hornet family – and a number of second-hand Australian F/A-18As. In Boeing’s offer, Canada would be able to exploit the existing infrastructure for the Super Hornet Block III, a move which would also reduce costs.

CF-18E [Boeing]
The Block III configuration is the latest version of the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and features an advanced cockpit, improved sensors and conformal fuel tanks, as well as reductions in its radar cross section. Boeing


F-35 Lightning II

Canada has been a Level 3 partner in the development of the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II since the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) programme began. In July 2010, the nation announced plans to acquire 65 examples of the conventional take-off and landing (CTOL)-configured F-35A. However, this plan was scrapped following the 2015 federal election in favour of an open, transparent competition – which is the FFCP.

Greg Ulmer, executive vice president of the F-35 programme at Lockheed Martin, said: “We are extremely proud of our longstanding partnership with Canada, which has played a key role in the F-35’s development… The [fifth-generation] F-35 would transform the [RCAF] fleet and deliver the capabilities necessary to safeguard Canadian skies. The F-35’s unique mix of stealth and sensor technology will enable the [RCAF] to [modernise] their contribution to NORAD operations, ensure Arctic sovereignty and meet increasingly sophisticated global threats.”

F-35s [Lockheed Martin]
The F-35 could be the more expensive choice for Canada, but it also offers a number of capabilities that are not available with the other two platforms, such as its stealth, networking and information sharing abilities. Lockheed Martin


What next?

Now that the proposals have been submitted, the three aircraft will be evaluated in terms of capability (60%), cost (20%) and economic benefits (20%).

The evaluation will include a phased bid compliance process, which gives the bidding firms the opportunity to address non-compliant areas of their proposals related to the programme's mandatory criteria.

This initial proposal evaluation process is scheduled to conclude next spring. Following which, the Canadian government will choose to enter into talks with two or more bidders and ask for revised proposals.

After which, the government will finalise terms with its desired bidder before officially awarding a contract to one of the three companies. This is expected to take place in 2022 and deliveries of the first aircraft are scheduled to take place in 2025.