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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.
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.