Questions Swirl As Canada Launches Negotiations for F-35 Stealth Fighter (excerpt)
(Source: The Canadian Press; published March 28, 2022)

By Lee Berthiaume
OTTAWA --- Canada's decade-long search for a new fighter jet to replace its aging CF-18s came full circle on Monday as the Liberal government announced negotiations with U.S. defence giant Lockheed Martin to purchase the F-35.

Yet even as the end to that circuitous search appeared to finally be in sight, many unanswered questions remained: how much the aircraft will cost? When they will start to arrive in Canada? And were the past 12 years of debate and delays worth it?

Procurement Minister Filomena Tassi and Defence Minister Anita Anand confirmed during a news conference that Lockheed Martin's stealth fighter beat out Sweden's Saab Gripen in a competition many had long considered the F-35's to lose.

The government will now launch formal negotiations with the company this week for the purchase of 88 F-35s to replace Canada's CF-18s, with officials anticipating the talks will take about seven months and result in a final contract by the end of the year.

Tassi and Anand emphasized the negotiations do not mean a deal for the F-35 is done, and that the government retains the option to talk with Saab about its Gripen fighter should discussions with Lockheed Martin stall.

Despite what Anand described as a "rigorous" competition designed to ensure Canada gets the best fighter jet at the lowest cost with the most economic benefits, a senior procurement official indicated the scope of the negotiations will be broad.

"We need to discuss capability requirements, we need to discuss costs, we need to discuss timelines, when are we going to get these aircraft," said Public Service and Procurement Canada assistant deputy minister Simon Page.

"So there are still quite a few parameters and variables to bring home with the company."

As for the anticipated $19-billion cost, Anand said that will be "further refined."

Officials did express optimism that a deal will be finalized in the next seven months, and that the first F-35 will arrive by 2025 and the last around 2032.

Lockheed Martin Canada chief executive Lorraine Ben in a statement welcomed the launched of negotiations, while Saab Canada spokeswoman Sierra Fullerton said the firm respected the government's decision while leaving the door open to future talks.

The move into final negotiations for the F-35 has also prompted questions about whether Ottawa should have pressed ahead with its original deal more than a decade ago.

Stephen Harper's Conservative government committed to buying 65 F-35s without a competition in 2010, before concerns about the stealth fighter's cost and capabilities forced it back to the drawing board.

The Liberals promised in 2015 not to buy the F-35, but to instead launch an open competition to replace the CF-18s. They later planned to buy 18 Super Hornets without a competition as an "interim" measure until a full competition could be launched.

Some at the time questioned that plan, suggesting the Liberals were trying to find a way to lock Canada into the Super Hornet without opening itself up to a legal challenge from Lockheed Martin or any other jet makers.

But the government cancelled the plan after Boeing launched a trade dispute with Montreal aerospace firm Bombardier. Ottawa initiated the current bidding process in July 2019, at which point the Super Hornet and F-35 were allowed to compete. (end of excerpt)


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