Canada to spend $7 billion on 16 F-35 fighter jets
The Department of Defense recently received tacit approval to spend $7 billion on 16 F-35 fighter jets and related equipment.
Two defense sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss matters that have not yet been made public, said a funding request to the Treasury Department was given the green light earlier this month.
The Canadian Press also reviewed a document summarizing this request to the Treasury Board, the department that controls federal purses, and independently verified its accuracy.
The funding approval came after months of negotiations with the US government and Lockheed Martin, after the F-35 beat Sweden’s Saab Gripen in a competition earlier this year.
While the federal government has announced it will buy 88 new fighter jets between 2026 and 2032 to replace its aging CF-18s, the sources said Canada will be buying F-35s in blocks over the next few years.
Canada must place an initial order by the end of the calendar year to ensure it meets the planned delivery schedule, they added.
The Treasury Board approval covers an initial set of 16 F-35s, manufactured by Lockheed Martin, as well as spare parts, weapons and various start-up costs associated with acquiring new jets, such as: B. the construction of new facilities.
According to sources, the Liberal government was due to make an announcement two weeks ago, but now the news is not expected to be officially announced until January.
Procurement Minister Helena Jaczek’s office declined to comment specifically on Tuesday’s Treasury Department approval, instead citing the overall decision to purchase 88 fighter jets.
“As outlined in Canada’s Strong, Secure, Engaged Defense Policy, Canada will acquire 88 advanced combat aircraft,” spokesman Olivier Pilon wrote in an email.
“We look forward to providing an update on this important project shortly.”
Lockheed Martin declined to comment. So does the US Department of Defense’s F-35 office, which is responsible for the stealth fighter program. Instead, they referred questions to the Canadian government.
Canada’s decades-long search for a new fighter jet to replace its aging CF-18s came to an end in March, when the Liberal government announced negotiations with US defense giant Lockheed Martin to buy the F-35.
Talks, which officials are expecting at the time, would last about seven months and result in a final deal by the end of the year.
However, the Liberal government also stressed at the time that the negotiations did not mean a deal was finalized for the F-35, with the government retaining the option to talk to Saab about its Gripen fighter should talks with Lockheed Martin falter should advise.
The government originally expected to spend $19 billion on Canada’s next fleet of fighter jets, but it wasn’t clear at the time what would be included – and what wouldn’t. Defense Minister Anita Anand said in March that the cost would be “further refined.”
Buying F-35s in tranches is not an isolated case, says US-based analyst Richard Aboulafia, one of the world’s top F-35 experts.
For example, while the UK had previously committed to purchasing a total of 138 F-35s, its initial order was just 48. Australia has taken a similar approach, initially ordering just 14 of the stealth fighters before later confirming a further 58.
The rationale for such a phased approach varies depending on each country’s budgetary process and the ability of each military to accept and support the transition to a new aircraft. It is also based on Lockheed Martin’s production schedule and other commissions.
Stephen Harper’s Conservative government first committed to buying 65 F-35s without competition in 2010 before concerns about the stealth fighter’s cost and capabilities forced it back to the drawing board.
The Liberals vowed in 2015 not to buy the F-35, instead launching open competition to replace the CF-18. They later planned to purchase 18 Super Hornets with no competition as an “interim measure” until a full competition could be started.
Some questioned that plan at the time, suggesting the Liberals were trying to find a way to bring Canada into the Super Hornet without opening itself to legal challenge from Lockheed Martin or other jet manufacturers.
But the government canceled the plan after Boeing started a trade dispute with Montreal-based aerospace company Bombardier. Ottawa initiated the current bidding process in July 2019, at which point the Super Hornet and F-35 were allowed to participate.
Meanwhile, the government has been forced to invest hundreds of millions of additional dollars in the CF-18 fleet to keep them flying until a replacement can be delivered. By 2032, the CF-18 will have been around for 50 years.
The Canadian press reported last week that Canada will not send fighter jets to patrol NATO airspace for Russian incursions next year, the first time Canadian CF-18s will be absent from the skies over Europe since 2017.
The decision was partially attributed to the need to upgrade the CF-18s to ensure they could continue fighting and defending themselves against opponents until they could be replaced by F-35s.
This report from The Canadian Press was first published on December 20, 2022.