FFCP declines Boeing’s Super Hornet bid in future fighter competition

Avatar for Skies MagazineBy Skies Magazine | November 25, 2021

Estimated reading time 5 minutes, 57 seconds.

Canada’s Future Fighter Capability Project (FFCP) representatives have said that Boeing’s bid to replace the Royal Canadian Air Force’s fleet of legacy CF-188 Hornets did not meet its requirements.

Government and industry sources said the news that Boeing’s F/A-18E/F Super Hornet Block III bid has fallen short was delivered to the U.S. on Nov. 24. Meanwhile, the other two candidates — the Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II and Saab Gripen E — have not yet heard whether they are in or out of the acquisition and sustainment project for 88 advanced fighter jets, valued between $15 billion and $19 billion.

All remaining competitors can lay claim to being Arctic platforms. Canada has already proven the F/A-18's credentials in the high North, the U.S. will base two combat F-35 squadrons in Alaska, and Sweden has developed the Gripen with Arctic operations in mind. Boeing's Super Hornet Block III concept that is expected to be offered to Canada, is shown here. Aaron Foster Image
Boeing’s F/A-18E/F Super Hornet Block III may no longer be in the running for Canada’s future fighter. Aaron Foster Image

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.

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.

Just earlier this month, Boeing held a media event at its St. Louis facility to pitch the Super Hornet as the right choice for Canada. Part of that pitch came down to operating costs and affordability, where 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 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.

“The Block III Super Hornet is the most capable aircraft we’ve built to date,” said Jennifer Splaingard, vice president and program manager for the Super Hornet, during the St. Louis media event. “It brings a few things: survivability and lethality. It also brings networking and longevity. The longevity piece not only ties to the airframe life — this is a 10,000-hour airframe that can last, depending on your flight program, upward of 30 years — but the longevity piece relates to the networking piece; that has to do with the open mission system processor that we’re putting in here, allowing capability upgrades well into the future really easily.”

The OEM has not yet commented on the FFCP’s decision, stating it would wait for the “official notification” from Ottawa.

While the news that Boeing’s bid falls short comes as a surprise, defense analyst David Perry of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute said the decision could reinforce the government’s stance that it is running a fair and unbiased competition, according to a report by The Canadian Press.

Sweden-based Saab is the only European contender, pitching its Gripen E jet. Two other European companies had dropped out of the competition before it started, stating the government’s requirements favored the U.S. competition.

Lockheed could be left as the only U.S. company remaining in the competition, offering the F-35A.

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.

Regarding a final decision on a future fighter, Ottawa has said it intends to award the contract some time in 2022.

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  1. The best of a group of compromises gets rejected due to politics. The truth is that none of the contenders really meets the requirements for a high altitude interceptor for Canada’s defence needs

    1. Not at all true. The F-35 will work much better than a CF-18 in the interceptor role. The CF-18 carries its’ weapons externally which causes a considerable amount of drag. In addition the CF-18 Carrie’s three external fuel tanks in the intercept role and is therefore limited to subsonic speeds. The F-35 can fly much faster as it carries its’ weapons internally and does not require draggy external fuel tanks as it holds as much fuel internally as a triple tanked CF-18. That plus STEALTH and SENSOR FUSION makes the F-35 the only real choice as demonstrated by being purchased by virtually all of Canada’s allies.

      1. The F-35 can’t sustain supersonic flight since it would destroy it’s stealth coating. So it’s in reality a subsonic fighter if it wants to stay stealthy. The Gripen on the other hand can supercruise with a full A2A load out and has a longer range than the F-35.
        The big bonus is that CPFH is in favour for the Gripen versus the F-35. You fly seven Gripens for the same cost as one F-35.

        Stealth… well SAAB and Sweden chooses not to follow the stealth path with the new Gripen for two reasons cost and radar development. Since SAAB is a leader in radar development and supplies radars for the USNs CVs so they can detect their F-35s. One can safely assume they know what they are doing.

        Tactical data links and sensor fusion is something SAAB has been doing long before LM.

        1. That is incorrect Anna, this coating issue was only present on the F-35B and F-35C models (not the F-35A which is being offered) and has since been fixed.

          The cost of flying the latest Gripen variant is unknown but is definitely cheaper, however the Gripen has nowhere near the sensor capabilities of the F-35, that is not even disputable.

          I’m all for discussion, but you’re just posting disinformation.

          1. Im sorry you are so missinformed. I’m only making my post bassed on publicly available facts. While disregarding the massive dissinformation that mainly US sources is spreading in everything from social media to government reports about the Gripen system
            It’s so embarrassing for the US as a whole that SAAB in tiny Sweden managed to create something like the Gripen C/D and now the Gripen E.

            Sensors, sensor fusion and tactical data links:
            Gripen E will be the SwAF fourth fighter with a tactical data link and sensor fusion. Its first was the SAAB JA37D Viggen. The US didn’t surpass Viggens capabilities in this field until the introduction of the F-35.

            It’s all as embarrassing as it was when the USN leased a submarine with crew for two years and didn’t succeed in finding it in repeated exercises during that time.

            The so called capabilities of the F-35 are extremely disputable.

        2. Anna Tulta considering the Gripen E variant requires a weapons system officer to make use of Saab’s “amazing” and “advanced” EW system, I’d say the operating cost argument is largely exaggerated (almost every other country that declined the Gripen cites cost saving exaggeration as a sticking point) and that if they’re so advanced, why does their system in their mildly refreshed, 30+ year old airframe require two pilots to be a fully functional EW platform?

          1. The Gripen E is a single seat fighter (F is the double seat version). Dont get your gripen facts from LM pls 😉

          2. The in service Gripen D makes use of a second crew members just as the Growler to perform ECM. The SwAF has had several of their own ECM “Prowlers’ starting with the Lansen and then the Viggen.

            With Gripen E each single aircraft will have the capability to perform what a Growler does. With only the pilot and a pod. No pod is needed achieve what an Growler does for the aircraft itself. Pod is needed to perform more advanced ECM than the Growlers do today. The technology is based on SAABs own GaN technology and half a century experience in ECM. These GaN sensors are not available in the US, which is why the USN buys them from SAAB for its CVs.

          3. Correction, wrong of me. The Gripen E/F doesn’t need a pod (Arexis) to perform ECM like the Growler. It’s all integrated in each aircraft. So every Gripen E/F is also a fully fledged ECM and a MRF at the same time. The Arexis pod is available for the Gripen C/D and will not require a second crew member to operate it. SAAB also offers it to be integrated on any other aircraft, like old CF-18s. There are no power issues since SAAB uses more advanced technology (GaN) than on the Growlers (GaAs).

        3. The Gripen’s radar isn’t Swedish, if that’s what you meant. It is built by SELEX, and Anglo-Italian firm.

    1. Yeah for sure. I agree. Since we’re not getting what we want on lumber and EV’s, the logical thing to do would be to procur a sub-par fighter.

  2. If the Super Hornet does not meet the requirements, how could the F-35 meet them? Unless the uncompromising criteria is a stealth feature I do not see how the F-35 can do much better than the Super Hornet, especially in costs and revenues generated.

  3. Retribution perhaps for Boeing screwing over Bombardier and Canadian aerospace industry over a few years back on the C-series ?

    Chickens do like to return home to roost they say.

    1. Doubtful. The bidders will be watching like hawks for any sign of subjective criteria, such as the ‘Boeing clause’. And the losers will get a thorough debriefing as to why they came up short. Any indication that the process was anything less than objective and the Crown will have a lawsuit on its hands.

  4. Any current fighter jet, even those that dropped out would suit Canada’s needs. We are not just buying jets to defend Canada, we are buying jets to defend Europe, our NATO commitment. Therein lies the problem. We crossed the big pond twice to defend Europe, but is there really a threat anymore. Russia just needs to turn off gas/oil and Europe is screwed. China does not border Europe, so not really a threat.
    Although I believe Canada should remain “NATO friendly”, do we need to spend money on NATO. To just defend our skies which is increasingly becoming the North, almost any jet would do. The Super Hornet probably best suited of them all. The perfect plan would be a mix of F-15’s and F-18″.
    Although the F-35 is a remarkable technological machine, it may only be one radar development from being a F-8 Crusader

  5. A somewhat surprising development, as it might have been chosen as a ‘safe’ bet among the candidates. Also, there will be hundreds of Super Hornet Blk III’s in service until circa 2040. By contrast, not a single NATO country has purchased Gripen E/F.
    I admire the IKEA plane, but like the SH3, it is unlikely to be combat-viable much beyond 2040 when the Gen-6 aircraft start entering service. The F-35 has the longevity to see users out to 2050. Too bad about the operating costs, though. Wish there was another Gen-5 option.

  6. This GUARANTEES that we’re getting Gripens. Finally, the Canadian government does something right for a change! We won’t be getting the F-35 because the Liberals would need a majority governemnt to do so. The NDP and BQ have already said that they’ll only support the Gripen and thank goodness because we need a plane that actually WORKS. That disqualifies the F-35.

    1. I am skeptical that the NDP or Bloc would make the fighter choice a matter of confidence in the House. Why try to bring down a government over such a peripheral issue? More likely, their ‘support’ for the Grip-E is rhetorical, and their main concern is really maximizing job creation. (Quebec could be sorely disappointed in that case, as the notional assembly line for Grip would be IMP Aerospace in Nova Scotia.)
      In any case, the Libs don’t need a majority. The Opposition won’t oppose the selection of the F-35. Indeed, the Tories will crow about being ‘vindicated’!
      If the RCAF had to settle for a Gen-4 aircraft among the candidates, I would have chosen Super Hornet. Would love to know what ‘requirements’ it failed to satisfy.

  7. The F-35’s “development in service” model, is a bottomless money pit and basically constitutes an ongoing blank cheque for LM. Software upgrades alone, will cost hundreds of millions of dollars over the life of the aircraft and any Canadian aircraft will have to undergo extensive…….and expensive, arrester hook modifications in order to operate from forward bases in the Arctic. On top of this, without stealth, the F-35 is a markedly inferior combat aircraft and unfortunately that capability is rapidly dwindling. The Russian Nebo-M surveillance radar and S-400 Triumf air defence systems already have anti-stealth capabilities. If we buy the F-35, we will be paying a premium for assets that will rapidly become obsolete.

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