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Public Services and Procurement Canada has extended the deadline for proposals to replace the CF-188 Hornets until July 31, 2020.
The 30-day extension is a response to the coronavirus pandemic that has disrupted business operations globally, especially in the aerospace sector.
“The COVID-19 pandemic is presenting numerous challenges for businesses and their workforce, including the eligible suppliers for the Future Fighter Capability Project,” said a spokesperson for the department in a statement on May 6.
“The unprecedented situation has impacted proposal finalization. To support our commitment to conducting an open, fair, and transparent competition, the extension will ensure all suppliers are able to submit their most competitive offer to Canada.”
Three qualified contenders remain in the competition to replace the Royal Canadian Air Force fighter jet fleet: Sweden’s Saab Aeronautics with the Gripen E and the United States-backed Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet and Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II. Dassualt Aviation and Airbus Defense and Space withdrew their entrants, the Rafale and Eurofighter Typhoon, in 2018 and 2019, respectively.
The project, valued at up to $19 billion, is seeking proposals for 88 advanced aircraft to replace an aging fleet of 76 A and B model Hornets that began entering service in the mid-1980s. The bids will be evaluated on technical capability, worth 60 per cent of the evaluation; acquisition and operating costs (20 per cent); and economic benefit to Canadian industry, also 20 per cent and the highest weighting for economic return on any defence procurement to date.
It’s the second time this year the federal government has prolonged the deadline for the request for proposals (RFP). In February, at the request of one of the suppliers, it granted a three-month extension from March 30 to June 30.
Release of the formal RFP was also pushed back several times before being issued in July 2019, to accommodate changes during the draft RFP process. The project is the largest acquisition in recent Air Force history and has faced numerous schedule changes over the past decade.
This latest change comes a week after Canada submitted an annual payment of US$70.1 million to remain in the F-35 development program, which is being supported by nine partner countries.
To date, the government has invested US$541.3 million since 1997 into the multi-variant, next-generation fighter program. However, Canadian companies have captured US$1.8 billion in work on the fighter.
“This participation provides Canadian industry with contract opportunities that are only available to program participants,” a spokesperson for National Defence told Canadian Press. “Our membership will also allow us preferential pricing and sequencing in the build schedule should the F-35 aircraft be successful in the current future fighter capability program.”
Despite the recent delay because of COVID-19, PSPC still anticipates to award a contract in 2022. The first new aircraft would be delivered in early 2025.
In the interim, the government is acquiring and upgrading 18 operational Australian F/A-18A Hornets to augment the current fleet of 76 Hornets. The RCAF is also finalizing an upgrade package for the 76 fighters that will likely include enhancements to their combat capability.