Canada finalizes deal to buy 88 F-35 fighter jets for $19B

Avatar for Chris ThatcherBy Chris Thatcher | January 9, 2023

Estimated reading time 9 minutes, 24 seconds.

Defence Minister Anita Anand confirmed in a Jan. 9 press conference that Canada has finalized an agreement with the U.S. government, Lockheed Martin, and engine maker Pratt & Whitney to purchase 88 F-35A Lightning II fighter jets for an estimated C$19 billion – as part of the Future Fighter Capability Project (FFCP) to replace the Royal Canadian Air Force’s (RCAF’s) aging fleet of CF-188 Hornets.

Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC) said deliveries are slated to begin in 2026, with fleet full operational capability expected between the 2032-34 timeframe. At that time, Canada will become the world’s second largest operator of the fighter, behind the United States.

Canada has confirmed the purchase of 88 F-35A Lightning II fighter jets. Mark Thomas Photo

The firm deal comes roughly nine months after Canada confirmed Lockheed as the top-ranked bidder in the FFCP competition, and began talks to finalize the contract.

PSPC stated that during the finalization phase (between March and December 2022), Lockheed “successfully demonstrated that a resulting contract would meet all of Canada’s requirements and outcomes” — including values for money, performance and delivery assurances, and economic benefits for Canada, among other requisites.

The F-35A procurement is the largest investment in the RCAF in more than 30 years, PSPC noted, and comes with a total project cost of around $19 billion for the aircraft, sustainment set up, initial weapons, and infrastructure. The full lifecycle cost could reach C$70 billion.

That is being offset somewhat by the potential economic return, which Anand suggested could contribute annually over $425 million to GDP and ensure 3,300 direct and indirect jobs for Canadian industry over a 25-year period. The total F-35 production run is expected to exceed 3,000 aircraft and “every one of these jets will include Canadian components,” she said.

Furthermore, Canadian industry is well positioned to participate in both the future production supply chain and in the long-term sustainment of the global fleet.

Canadian companies currently have 36 active contracts in the F-35 program and have secured production contracts worth about US$2.8 billion since the program began, senior officials noted during the press conference. Those numbers are now expected to grow considerably.

“[Lockheed Martin and Pratt and Whitney] have agreed to target work in Canadian industry that is equal to the contract value over the life of this procurement,” one official said. “The economic benefits targets will now be measured in Canadian content value, with specific targets for production and sustainment work” that will be verified on an annual basis by Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada.

Training on the fifth-gen fighter

An initial cadre of RCAF fighter pilots will begin training on the F-35A at the F-35 Pilot Training Center at Luke Air Force Base (AFB) near Phoenix, Arizona, in 2026.

At the same time, a team of air force maintenance technicians will start turning wrenches and learning the complex systems of the fifth-generation aircraft at the F-35 Integrated Training Center at Eglin AFB in Florida.

The training programs will continue at both centers until new RCAF training units and sustainment infrastructure are ready at their main operational bases of 4 Wing Cold Lake, Alberta, and 3 Wing Bagotville, Quebec.

The preliminary training plan was unveiled as part of the Canadian government’s Jan. 9 announcement affirming the F-35 deal.

“We’re looking forward to commencing training,” stated a senior officer during a technical briefing.

Canada has adopted a “staggered” process for acquiring the F-35A that will see the jets delivered in several tranches. The initial batch of 16 F-35s includes the first four to Luke AFB in 2026, followed by six in 2027, and six more in 2028. The price of the first four is approximately US$85 million per airframe.

The quantities for the remaining tranches are confidential, said senior government officials, but Canada’s cost per aircraft would be the same in “any given year” as the other original Joint Fighter Program members, including the U.S.

The F-35 Joint Program Office and Lockheed Martin recently finalized a production contract for Lots 15 and 16 (with an option for Lot 17), valued at US$30 billion, for around 398 aircraft intended for U.S. services and international partners such as Belgium, Finland, and Poland.

According to the senior RCAF officer, Canada’s first deliveries will come from Lot 18 — the first lot to have the Block 4 upgrade, which also includes Technical Refresh-3 (TR-3) improvements such as a new integrated core processor, panoramic cockpit display, and enhanced memory unit.

“[It] will give us the most modern version of the F-35A,” he said.

In 2020, the government announced design contracts for new facilities for fighter squadrons at 3 Wing and 4 Wing. This past summer, as part of a program to modernize NORAD, the government earmarked funding for infrastructure upgrades at RCAF forward operating locations across the North to support the future fighter requirements.

“These facilities will be home to both operational and training squadrons and will include space for daily operations, maintenance, administration, mission planning, and simulator training in support of the entire fleet,” said Defence Minister Anand.

Canada’s Arctic operations were among the considerations when assessing the contending fighter jets, and the F-35A will be equipped with “a true versus magnetic navigation capability to enable far north navigation,” as well as a drag chute for landing on northern icing runways, said Anand.

“We certainly did take into account . . . the fact that Canada has a unique operating environment and that we need to account for that in the technology of the aircraft and in the squadrons that are hosting the aircraft,” she noted.

Anand framed the F-35A procurement in context of current global tensions generated by the war in Ukraine; Russia’s continued investments in Arctic infrastructure and capability; China’s aggression in the South China Sea; and a “need to defend the second largest airspace in the world” and meet NATO and NORAD commitments.

“The F-35 provides pilots with enhanced intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capabilities, greatly improving their situational awareness and survivability in today’s high-threat operational environment,” she said.

The RCAF’s Hornet Extension Program to increase the size of the CF-188 fleet to 94 with 18 Australian F/A-18 Hornets and enhance the combat capability of 36 — including with the Raytheon APG-79 AESA radar — will give the Air Force the runway to gradually transition to the F-35A by 2032, while still ensuring it can “sustain defense missions,” added Anand.

With files from Dayna Fedy-MacDonald

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1 Comment

  1. Remember, Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC) also approved the purchase of the Cormorant Helicopter and the Phoenix pay system for federal public servants. How did those decisions go?

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