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Stealth F-35 vs. Gripen E: Which New Fighter Jet will Canada Choose?

Sweden Gripen E
First flight with first Gripen E for Sweden.

Stealth F-35 vs. Gripen E: Canada wants to buy a new fighter for the Royal Canadian Air Force. What will it choose?

As part of the Royal Canadian Air Force’s modernization, Ottawa is looking for new fighter jets. Canada’s current defense policy, Strong, Secure, Engaged, calls for the country to replace its aging McDonnell Douglas CF-188A & B Hornet fighter jets with a modern, more survivable fighter.

Royal Canadian Air Force CF-18

Canada’s CF-18 Hornets are not exactly young. They first entered service with the Royal Canadian Air Force in the early 1980s, making some airframes around 40 years old. Compared to the more familiar F/A-18, Canada’s CF-18s are essentially the same.

One of the differences between the two variants is a night identification light on the Canadian model. The CF-18s retain the F/A-18’s carrier-capable characteristics, including an arrestor hook, folding wingtips, and more robust landing gear. Like early Marine Corps F/A-18, the Canadian variant also features a false canopy painted on the underside of the fuselage.

F-35 vs. Gripen E (Now that Boeing’s Super Hornet Is Out)

The Government of Canada recently announced that the RCAF modernization program had narrowed the field of potential replacement aircraft from three to two, eliminating the modernized F/A-18 Super Hornet.

That leaves just two possible replacements: the Saab Gripen E, a bid from Sweden, and the United States’ 5th generation F-35A Lightning II.

The Canadian government statement on the fighter selection program states that “over the coming weeks, Canada will finalize next steps for the process.” However, “based on further analysis of the 2 remaining bids, could involve proceeding to final negotiations with the top-ranked bidder or entering into a competitive dialogue, whereby the 2 remaining bidders would be provided with an opportunity to improve their proposals.”

While both the Gripen E and the F-35A are both single-engine fighters, their powerplant is about the only similarity between the two. While the Gripen airframe relies on a delta wing design and canard control surfaces, the F-35 family of airplanes uses a more typical wing arrangement and stealthily canted V-tail.

In addition to the obvious stealth advantages, the F-35 is a considerably younger airframe, first produced in the mid-2000s compared to the Gripen E’s late 1980s initial production date. Given these benefits and Canada’s close physical proximity and military relationship to the United States, the F-35 might be Ottawa’s best option.

F-35 takes on Gripen E: Who Has the Best Shot? 

The Canadian government statement explains that “the Government of Canada continues to work towards a contract award in 2022, with delivery of aircraft as early as 2025.” So sometime very soon, Canada will have a new fighter.

Caleb Larson is a multimedia journalist and Defense Writer with The National Interest. He lives in Berlin and covers the intersection of conflict, security, and technology, focusing on American foreign policy, European security, and German society.

Written By

Caleb Larson, a defense journalist based in Europe and holds a Master of Public Policy degree from the Willy Brandt School of Public Policy. He lives in Berlin and writes on U.S. and Russian foreign and defense policy, German politics and culture.

8 Comments

8 Comments

  1. Chris

    December 2, 2021 at 12:37 pm

    Good coverage. You are ahead of many of the rest. Here’s a scoop: The F-35 can only be refuelled by “stinger” probe on equipped tankers. Canada does not possess such tankers and would have to rely on other allies. In addition: F-35s could not use Gatineau airport at demo two years ago. 6000 ft. runway is marginal for airshows. CF-18 had no problem. Gripen E requires much less.

  2. Mike

    December 8, 2021 at 7:47 am

    Here is a list of these bases along with the length of their longest runway, in feet.

    CFB Cold Lake: 12,600
    CFB Bagotville: 10,000
    CFB Comox: 10,000
    CFB Goose Bay: 11,051
    CFB Gander: 10,200
    CFB Greenwood: 8,000 (the minimum)
    CFB Trenton: 10,000

    Canada’s Forward Operating Locations (FOL) up north
    FOL Yellowknife: 7,503
    FOL Inuvik: 6,001
    FOL Rankin Inlet: 6,000
    FOL Iqalut: 8,605

    Not sure what is the problem in using F35 with these air-bases.

  3. Thomas Hawk

    December 8, 2021 at 2:49 pm

    Wow, that article was so shallow that I can’t believe that it was actually posted on 19fortyfive. You guys usually have much better standards than that and I honestly thought that I was going to read something written by someone who understood the situation better than I do. I’m sorry to see that this was not the case. probably have included in this article because this was not a comparison, it was a “This is what I think and it doesn’t matter that I’m wrong or that there are several flaws in my reasoning, I’m just going to say this.”

    Here’s a list of things that you should ALWAYS have covered in a professional military aviation comparison:
    1) Top speed
    2) Ferry range
    3) Agility (wing loading, thrust:weight ratio)
    4) Supercruise capability
    4) Weapons compatibility
    5) EW and sensors
    6) Versatility
    6) Value of stealth for Canadian operations
    4) Cost of purchase
    5) Cost of operation (CPFH)
    6) Cost of adoption (special needs like new tankers, hangars, etc.)
    7) Maintenance requirements (in man-hours per flight hour)
    8) Questions about sovereign ownership
    9) Tech transfer (if any)
    8) Logistical footprint
    9) Safety record and reliability
    8) EW and sensors
    9) Industrial Offsets

    You should also never use meaningless buzz-terms like “5th-gen” because the F-35 doesn’t even meet the original definition of “5th-gen” because it can’t supercruise. Real military aviation experts are all too aware of this and your use of them cheapens the article overall.

    For example, what generation is the F-16? What generation is the JA-37? Since the F-16 and JA-37 were contemporaries and both were referred to as “4th-gen”, does that not make the JAS-39 “5th-gen”? As you can see, the second you use a lazy term like “5th-gen”, you’ve muddied the waters for the reader. You’re trying to pull them in one direction or another and that’s bad because most readers have no idea about anything when it comes to aeronautics. I mean, let’s face it, it is literally “rocket science”.

    Lockheed-Martin dropped supercruise capability from their “5th-gen” definition because while it worked in their favour with the F-22, it worked against them for the F-35. L-M even tried to TRADEMARK the term “5th-gen”! That’s how you know it’s a meaningless and misleading term.

    It’s quite clear from the verbiage that you’ve used in this article that you PERSONALLY want Canada to choose the F-35. You called it a “5th-generation aircraft” (which is arguably false and devoid of context).
    You omitted all of the problems with the F-35 that are very well documented in Robert Behler’s DOT&E reports. You also omitted that the F-35 costs $33,000USD per hour to fly when new. You omitted that fact that selecting the F-35 would require the RCAF to replace their tanker fleet because the F-35 does NOT use the NATO-standard probe and drogue refuelling system but the oddball spinal tap boom system. And then of course you left out the climate-controlled hangars in which over 20 hours of maintenance must be performed per hour of F-35 flight.

    If you want to be taken seriously, you have to learn the material and give pros and cons to both aircraft with the context of the specific air force’s needs and mission profile. You also have to understand in advance that one plane will have more pros and one will have more cons. That doesn’t make you impartial or unprofessional because you’re chasing the objective truth.

    I’ve read your articles, you people definitely know your stuff so this “contribution” is just inexcusably below your standards.

    As for what you’ve written here, if I were being paid to write articles, I would be too embarrassed to even submit this excuse for an article.

    If you want an educated take on this competition, you have my email address.

  4. William

    December 8, 2021 at 7:41 pm

    why spend a fortune on the F35 for both the fighter jet and the infrastructure that would be needed for this model .. if I understand correctly the cost is $185 million for each F35 and $45 million each for the SAAB Gripen E .. besides many millions more for additional infrastructure to accommodate the F35 …
    I do not think that Canada can afford the F35 right now .. maybe in the near future add about 20 or so more to the 88 Gripe E`s if our finances are more in shape.. but we would have to add a different infrastructure
    True the F35 might be more advanced technologically, but not an enormous advantage from what I am reading .. besides the Americans have their bases in Alaska and Greenland fitted with F35`s ..

  5. Nathan

    December 10, 2021 at 6:57 am

    …author made a mistake. The Gripen E is a new airframe + is a new aircraft. It’s not the A/B/C/D version from past decades.

    Or was that an intentional mistake showing author bias in favor of the F-35?

    Norad Duties are what the RCAF does 99% of the time! The Gripen E is far better suited to Canada’s primary needs.

  6. Anna Tulta

    January 13, 2022 at 6:26 am

    Gripen E is the most modern fighter design on the market, almost two decades younger than the F-35.

    The Gripen E is an all new design. 100% new airframe.
    The only things it has in common with the Gripen C/D is the name, the armament and the maintenance tools.

  7. Kevin Williams

    March 4, 2022 at 8:07 pm

    Those “obvious” stealth advantages are not at all obvious; Gripen has the smaller visual and infrared cross-section. Radar stealth is nice, but intended for deep strikes into enemy territory, which Canada mostly doesn’t do, and when Canada might need to, the Gripen can launch cruise missiles that that the F-35 cannot, and don’t need pilot penetration into enemy airspace. We could afford those with the savings realized by the more affordable planes.

    And the younger aiframe? That was covered above. The new Gripens are the younger and more modern airframe.

    Shallow article. A thumbnail really. And both of its premises for F-35s being the better choice are demonstrably wrong.

  8. John

    March 29, 2022 at 8:11 pm

    the decision on the f 35 is unfortunate…I think the saab was a better choice; more reliable and operates at a lower per hour cost

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