July 31 (UPI) — Lockheed Martin, with its F-35 fighter plane, joined Boeing and Saab on Friday in submitting bids to build advanced aircraft for Canada’s armed forces.
An upgrade to Canada’s fleet of CF-18 planes, first purchased in 1977, is regarded as long overdue, and the process has been onerous.
A plan to purchase new planes first emerged in the 1990s, but changes in Canadian government, questions about the F-35’s cost, and longstanding suspicions that the Canadian military has preferred the F-35 over competitors led to delays, and rounds of government/industry consultations and reviews.
Lockheed’s F-35, Boeing’s F/A-18 Super Hornet Block III and Saab’s Gripen E are under consideration. The choice is further complicated by the benefits to Canadian industry if the F-35 is chosen.
“Canada has been a valued partner since the inception of the Joint Strike Fighter competition,” a Lockheed Martin statement on Friday said. “Canadian industry plays an integral role in the global F-35 supply chain and has gained significant technical expertise over the past 15-plus year involvement in the F-35 production.”
The F-35 program would continue to bring manufacturing and production opportunities to Canada, with an estimated 150,000 jobs supported over the life of the program, in which more than 3,200 aircraft are expected to be delivered by 2060, the Canadian Defense Review estimated on Friday.
The $19 billion program calls for eventual purchase of 88 new fighter planes, with initial payments due as Canada begins paying for four new Navy frigates, as well as dealing with the debt accrued in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic.
The first planes will not arrive until 2025, and defense analyst Michael Byers of the University of British Columbia suggested that Canada will purchase fewer planes. Byers noted that Conservative Party leadership, no longer in power, planned to buy only 65 planes, the minimum number the Canadian Air Force said at the time was required.