Canada confirms Boeing Super Hornet is out of fighter competition, Gripen E and F-35A are in

Avatar for Skies MagazineBy Skies Magazine | December 1, 2021

Estimated reading time 10 minutes, seconds.

The Government of Canada on Dec. 1 announced that after evaluating proposals submitted to replace the Royal Canadian Air Force’s fleet of legacy CF-188 Hornets, two bidders remain eligible under the Future Fighter Capability Project (FFCP) competitive procurement process: Sweden-based Saab with its Gripen E offering, and U.S.-based Lockheed Martin with the F-35A Lightning II. Boeing and its F/A-18E/F Super Hornet Block III bid are no longer in the running.

The news from the federal government comes six days after FFCP representatives said that Boeing’s bid did not meet their requirements.

Boeing Super Hornet. Jamie Hunter Photo

The federal government said in a press release issued on Dec. 1 that the “proposals were rigorously assessed on elements of capability, cost, and economic benefits. The evaluation also included an assessment of economic impact.”

The airframe manufacturers in the competition were required to demonstrate how their fighter jet would meet the military’s requirements for missions at home and abroad, as well as how a contract win would bring substantial economic benefits to Canada — as the country’s Industrial and Technological Benefits Policy, including the Value Proposition, applies to this procurement. The acquisition and sustainment project for 88 advanced fighter jets is valued between $15 billion and $19 billion.

Boeing in October 2020 said if the Super Hornet was selected, it would generate $61 billion and nearly 250,000 jobs for the Canadian economy over the 40-year life of program. This data was compiled by Canadian technology market analysis firm, Doyletech, through an economic impact study.

During a media event at Boeing’s St. Louis facility in early November, Boeing compared the cost per flight hour of the Super Hornet to its competition, the F35A. The F-35A’s cost per flight hour was US$33,600 in fiscal year 2020 (which Lockheed has said it is trying to reduce), while the Super Hornet has a cost per flight hour of around US$18,000.

As well, Boeing said the Super Hornet jet offers significant capability for multiple combat missions and has room for future technological growth.

“We are disappointed and deeply concerned by Canada’s announcement that the USG-Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet proposal for Canada is rejected. The F/A-18 Super Hornet Block III is the only competitor in the Future Fighter Capability Project competition that offers proven capability and interoperability to allied nations, including the United States and Australia, as well as a compelling industrial/economic package,” Boeing said in an email to Skies. “We are working with the U.S. and Canadian governments to better understand the decision and looking for the earliest date for a debrief to then determine our path forward.”

Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter. Jamie Hunter Photo

Meanwhile, Lockheed is now the only U.S. bidder remaining in the competition, offering the F-35A — which is the only fifth-generation fighter in the running.

“We are honored the Government of Canada determined the F-35 remains eligible for the next phase of the Future Fighter Capability Project,” said Lorraine Ben, chief executive, Lockheed Martin Canada. “As a cornerstone for interoperability with NORAD and NATO, the F-35 will strengthen Canada’s operational capability with our allies. The F-35 gives pilots the critical advantage against any adversary, enabling them to execute their mission and come home safe.”

In an online media briefing on Aug. 6, 2020, Steve Callaghan, Lockheed Martin’s vice president of F-35 development, shared the results of an economic impact assessment that suggested selection of the F-35 could impact GDP by almost $17 billion and generate more than 150,000 jobs over the life of the program.

Callaghan added that more than 2,500 F-35s could be operating in North America past 2060, resulting in “a large number” of potential sustainment opportunities.

“I think Canadian industry is in a very good position to capture quite a few of those contracts,” he said.

Canada has been paying into the F-35 program to maintain its seat at the table of nations that are participating in the U.S.-led development program. The latest payment of US$71.7 million occurred in July, bringing Canada’s total investment in the F-35 to US$613 million since 1997. The government said the investment brought US$2 billion in contracts to Canadian businesses.

Last, but not least, Saab is the only European contender in the competition.

“The Government of Canada has informed Saab that we have passed all aspects of the evaluation including capability, security, and interoperability requirements,” the company said. “We look forward to continued collaboration with the Government of Canada on this matter. Saab is offering 88 state-of-the-art Gripen E aircraft – a ‘Made in Canada’ solution for the Royal Canadian Air Force.”

Gripen E is the beefed-up, single-seat variant of Gripen. Saab refers to the aircraft as “the smart fighter.” The jet features an all-new electronic warfare system that Saab calls a “digital shield,” as well as an agile avionics architecture.

Saab also said Gripen E has the lowest associated maintenance costs —  designed to be serviced and turned around by a small team.

The OEM noted that if the Gripen E is selected, it would be the first time “in generations” that a fighter is built in Canada.

Saab Gripen E. Jamie Hunter Photo

In January 2021, Saab also announced that it would establish a new facility in Canada as part of its offer for Canada’s FFCP.

“This would be known as the Saab Sensor Centre and would be located in Vancouver, British Columbia, with a focus on sensor technologies such as radar,” the company said.

As for a final decision on Canada’s future fighter, Ottawa has said it intends to award the contract some time in 2022.

The federal government added: “Over the coming weeks, Canada will finalize next steps for the process, which, based on further analysis of the two remaining bids, could involve proceeding to final negotiations with the top-ranked bidder or entering into a competitive dialogue, whereby the two remaining bidders would be provided with an opportunity to improve their proposals.”

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16 Comments

  1. Buy both. Smaller number of F-35s, larger number of Gripens. Both have their uses in combat, but Canada cannot afford a full contingent of very expensive F-35s. The SAAB proposal is vastly superior for building the plane in Canada, transferring intellectual capital, and actually operating the plane in arctic conditions with reasonable cost.

    1. Doing what you propose would cost even more than choosing the F-35 because we’d have to have TWO sets of tankers, TWO inventories of spares, TWO maintenance crews at each base, plus the hangars, plus the cost of the F-35, plus the cost of the Gripen. That’s literally impossible.

      We’re not the USA, we don’t have an essentially unlimited military budget so we should get the plane that gives us the most for our money. That’s how we make the RCAF as powerful as possible within our means. That means the Gripen and ONLY the Gripen.

  2. If the RCAF is to stress its commitment to NORAD and select a jet most compatible with that role, then the Gripen E is the only choice by virtue of its speed and ability to use northern/arctic bases with unprepared runways if necessary. The Gripen’s top speed approaches 300 mph faster than the comparatively slow F-35 and is able to supercruise effortlessly while the F-35 can only do it over short distances. The cost of maintaining the F-35s radar-absorbing coatings is also prohibitive. Canada should be consulting F-35 customers such as Norway and The Netherlands about their experiences.

    1. Your comment is on-point but you gave the F-35 too much credit. because actually, the F-35 cannot supercruise AT ALL. A plane that can supercruise is capable of breaking the sound barrier on dry thrust alone which means without using its afterburner(s). A plane that can supercruise can hold supersonic speeds indefinitely, limited only by the amount of fuel it has.
      The F-35 needs wet thrust to go supersonic, which means it can’t supercruise. A supersonic plane that can’t supercruise, when it turns its afterburner(s) off, it begins to slow down to the point that it goes subsonic, which is EXACTLY what the F-35 does, which, again, means that it can’t supercruise, period.

      Supercruise is a capability that a plane either has or doesn’t have. What you’ve been reading are just marketing LIES peddled by Lockheed-Martin. They tell this lie because the average person doesn’t understand what supercruise capability is and also because the fact that the F-35 can’t supercruise means that it doesn’t meet the requirements to be referred to as “5th-gen” (which is just a marketing buzz-term term anyway).

      Feel free to look it up, you’ll see that I’m telling the truth. Every single outlet that has referred to the F-35 as “5th-Gen” either doesn’t know about this fact or… is trying to push Lockheed’s agenda because when the term “5th-gen” was coined, it was in reference to the F-22 and included supercruisie. To try to get around this fact, Lockheed even went so far as to try to trademark the term “5th-gen”, but failed. So, they just kept saying “5th-gen” over and over until the lie became the truth in the minds of the masses. This idea of “temporary supercruise” refers to something that has never actually existed because every supersonic plane ever made can do this and before the F-35, nobody ever attempted to refer to it as “Temporary Supercruise”. They just refered to it for what it was, not capable of supercruise.

      I wonder if Lockheed-Martin was taught to lie by Trump or if Trump was taught to lie by Lockheed-Martin. In any case, if they’re lying about that (and they are) what else are they lying about? Maybe its “undefeated” record in training exercises? Never trust an American who stands to financially benefit by lying to you.

  3. Justin Trudeau
    Keep in mind that the F35 cost to run per hour will destroy our economy or we can have the jet and NOT fly it. Just brag about what it can do but still cannot fly it. So we can have a few F35′ s that are invisible and remain invisible cause too expensive to fly. We can only buy a few cause also too expensive. We need permission to use it too. The computers are not accessible to us but only the Americans can service it. Total control from Americans again. Show us Canada is weak by buying the F35. I know you promised not to buy it but I know you will find an excuse like the rest of the politicians. Or you can prove yourself buy actually not letting anyone ” Bully ” us and go Saab. Lots of jets and lots flying cause the cheapest to fly and maintain. Designed for our weather too ! Almost perfect airworthiness and actually can fly fast too ! Or go with the plane that cannot “Climb…turn….or even go fast but surely can be “Invisible” cause it will hardly fly ( 35000 an hour vs 8500 an hour…Saab ) ….did I mention . part’s are in short supply ? For the F35 that is. So be bullied into changing your saying that we will not buy the F35. The plane we Canadians will have that is totally invisible to the people who will pay for it. Keep your promise if you can or are you a Liar like the rest ? Go Saab or ….. throw money away ….again. Make history and make Canada a country again. Not a State.

    1. You sir, are 100% on-point. The F-35 would bankrupt our military. We’d have to get a new tanker fleet, we’d have to build “special” (read: expensive) hangars for it and the pilot HELMETS cost $400,000USD EACH! Yeah, meanwhile it’s cost-per-flight-hour is $33,000USD and that’s when it’s NEW! Can you imagine what it’s going to be as it gets old? Lockheed says that it’s trying to get the CPFH reduced but even if they succeed, what will it be then, $30,000USD instead? There’s only so much that can be done with this defective bucket!

      Performance-wise, it’s completely USELESS. How will it be able to intercept a Russian Tu-160 Blackjack Bomber when it can only do Mach 1.6 (no faster than our CF-18s) and only has a range of 2,400km (JAS-39E’s range: 4,000km)? The Blackjack BOMBER can do Mach 2.0! The F-35 is a glorified light bomber, not an aerospace defence fighter like the JAS-39E. The RCAF claims that their primary mission is to “Defend Canadian aerospace from all airborne threats” which, in military aviation terminology is a misison called “Defensive Counter-Air”. This mission is NOT what a slow, short-range and stealthy first-strike bomber like the F-35 is good at. It’s not what it was made for.

      You’ve clearly done your homework on the Gripen and I applaud you for it. Everyone who seems to ba against the Gripen is either too lazy or too stupid to have actually researched it to any significant degree.

      Cheers to you!

  4. There’s a line in this article that was said by Boeing that I don’t understand. Perhaps someone can help me out with it. I’ve been an enthusiast of military aviation for over 30 years but this is something that I just don’t understand. This is the line:

    “We are working with the U.S. and Canadian governments to better understand the decision and looking for the earliest date for a debrief to then determine our path forward.”

    Just how is Boeing working with the US government to better understand the decision? It’s not the US government’s decision and they in fact have absolutely nothing to do with it. It kinda sounds like sour grapes, like Boeing is crying home to mommy over this. Now I may be completely off-base here but considering their past actions, behaving like a petulant child with no class whatsoever seems to be Boeing’s normal MO and this is just the continuation of that behaviour.

    If it is, good riddance to them and I hope that neither Air Canada nor WestJet elect to buy Boeing aircraft again. I’ve refused to fly on Boeing planes since they took that disgusting action against Bombardier and I’m thinking that for the rest of my life, I’ll be riding an Airbus. I’d lose a lot of self-respect if I just decided to be a sheep and pretend that nothing happened.

    1. I would hazard a guess that any sale of arms/equipment from a US company would require approval from the State Department. Boeing is probably baffled how they don’t meet Canada’s “requirements” while both Saab and the F35 do. It is quite obvious this has nothing to do with the aircraft’s capability, which is a tertiary consideration for this government, after cost and industrial benefits of course. No, this has everything to do with that sacred cow Bombardier, who was so hard done by (despite several government bailouts and massive subsidies to stay afloat in the years prior) that the government had to deny Boeing for causing “irreparable damage to the Canadian economy” (quite the humdinger coming from this government…a true bastion of prudent financial policy if ever one existed).

      I tend to believe the simplest explanation is usually the most accurate. It was obvious from the start the F35 and F18 SH were the only real contenders to replace our aging jets. In the 2015 election, the soon-to-be PM in his infinite wisdom made the promise to never buy the F35. After winning the election, the government quickly fabricates a story about a capability gap which would be solved with an “interim solution” purchase of F18SH (which would almost certainly ensure the SH would be the replacement of our old birds). Boeing, seeing an opportunity to take advantage of such a boneheaded statement, slaps tariffs on a rival competitor (knowing full well they would have the Cdn government over a barrel on the military procurement side) and the government retaliates by cancelling the interim SH purchase. Yeah, we sure showed them, that will teach them to wrong to one of our untouchable QC corporations. Instead, we will buy Australian junk which will probably cost millions to retrofit and bring into compliance with our jets, and we will drag this out for another 5 years (even though the answer has been staring us in the face for a decade). But our soldiers deserve nothing but the best right? Unless of course they are veterans seeking support, or actually the ones at the pointy end of military operations. Enter Saab with some brilliant marketing and the promise to revive the QC aerospace sector by allowing us to build their stuff here. How could we turn that down? I mean, the Gripen E is such a great fighter, it’s already been chosen by those powerhouse Air Forces of…wait for it…Brazil and Sweden! And lest we forget those operators of the C/D variant, the Hungarian Czech, Thai, and South African air forces…easily the closest allies we’ve ever had and almost certainly the nations we would join with the defend our sovereign airspace here in North America.

      I imagine a future where all our allies show up to whatever conflict is brewing and all of them are able to work together seamlessly. Then there’s Canada, with their “smart fighter”, can’t even integrate in a simple NATO operation. It’s all good though, we can land on highways and that valuable Swedish intellectual property is now ours!

      Jokes on Boeing, amirite!?!?

  5. Donnie Donnie Donnie….

    Do you remotely understand that the F-35 is not only a desastrous money pit, but that beside the occassional NATO support ops, which the Grippen could do, the F-35 is just totally unsuited to our PRIMARY NATO obligation, which is control of the sky above our head? In arctic conditions? It’s main flaw is being a monoreactor.

    The USAF is starting to realize that they cut out the F-22 assemply line way too soon, as there is a demand for it. Japan, and now us, would be client of that airframe.

    So I’d trust the damn Saab waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay before the F-35.

    1. I agree with you 100%. Robert Behrer, the US Director of Testing and Evaluation over the past four years, didn’t file a SINGLE report with the US Secretary of Defence about the F-35 that could be even remotely considered positive. That man’s credentials make every USAF pilot that crows about the F-35 look like a kid in grade school. When a man has the credentials that Behler has and his job is to be brutally honest to the Secretary of Defence, I trust his reports more than 1,000 pilots who are just parroting the Lockheed/USAF talking points. After all, they’re just saying what they’ve been ORDERED to say, just like the US military recruiters. They’re nothing more than snake-oil salesmen and a lot of them work for Lockheed-Martin.

  6. I don’t think Thomas knows what he is talking about. The Gripen E is NOTHING compared to Rafale, SU-57, SU-35 or new advanced MiG. I have done considerable research on this and anyone who knows anything about military aviation knows supercruise will not win in a dogfight. Gripen does not even have thrust vectoring and is not stealth so it will be shot down on very first day. I have more than 40 years of studying fighter jet planes and know the Gripen is a TERRIBLE plane that will not win in any fight. That is why nobody is buying it. Canada would be smart to buy ANY OTHER options than Gripen and F35.

  7. Finland just announced the F35 won their HX competition (based on capability, cost, and supply-chain availability) and somehow the Canadian media is silent. Pretty interesting considering Sweden is right next door. I guess the Gripen is the dud everyone knows it to be. That makes 4 arctic nations now selecting the plane (US, Denmark, Norway, Finland). Cue all the Saab shills talking about how the evil Americans forced this on those countries…smh.

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