Lockheed Martin will certainly be ending 2022 on a high note. This week the Canadian Department of National Defence reportedly received “quiet approval” for the $7 billion acquisition of sixteen F-35 Lightning II fighter jets and related gear.
The Canadian Press first reported that the Treasury Board received the green light earlier this month.
It follows a similar decision by Germany to go ahead with its plan to acquire the F-35 as part of a larger military procurement project worth 13 billion euros ($13.85 billion).
F-35: Oh, Canada
The Canadian funding approval followed months of negotiations with Washington and the aerospace/defense giant after the F-35 was selected over Sweden’s Saab JAS-39 Gripen in a contract competition earlier this year. Ottawa had sought to acquire a total of eighty-eight new fighter jets to replace its aging fleet of CF-18s between 2026 and 2032.
Canada is now apparently on track to acquire the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter in blocks over the next several years – but needed to make an initial order by the end of the calendar year to ensure its planned delivery would remain on track.
As a result, the Treasury Board’s recent quiet approval was for the sixteen stealth fighters. It also covers the costs of the spare parts, weapons, and various startup costs that are associated with adopting a new combat platform, including building new facilities to house the fighters.
While the liberal government had been expected to make the announcement two weeks ago, it won’t be “formally” announced until the New Year.
Lockheed Martin as well as the United States Department of Defense’s (DoD’s) F-35 office, which is responsible for the fifth-generation aircraft program, declined to comment and referred questions to the Canadian government. Canadian Procurement Minister Helena Jaczek’s office also declined to comment specifically on the Treasury Board approval.
However, the American defense contractor has long touted the F-35 as being the best value solution replacement for the CF-18.
News of the funding decision wasn’t exactly well received by Saab.
“Given that Saab remains eligible for selection in the formal procurement process, we are surprised by today’s media report,” Saab Canada spokesperson Sierra Fullerton said in a statement, and she added, “Saab is committed to the offer we made to the government of Canada, which was significantly less than the $19 billion budgeted for the full 88 aircraft requested.”
Road to the F-35
Former Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative government first committed to buying sixty-five F-35s without competition in 2010, before concerns about the stealth fighter’s cost and capabilities scuttled the efforts.
The Liberals, which took power in 2015, subsequently promised not to buy the F-35 and instead launched an open competition to replace the CF-18s.
They later announced a plan to purchase eighteen F/A-18 Super Hornets without competition as an “interim” measure until a full competition could be launched. That effort was actually canceled after Boeing – maker of the Super Hornet – launched a trade dispute with Montreal aerospace firm Bombardier. As a result, Ottawa initiated its current bidding process in July 2019 – in which the F/A-18, JAS-39, and F-35 took part.
The current plan calls for the CF-18 fleet to remain in service until its replacement can be delivered – while the last of the Canadian-specific variant of the F/A-18 Hornet could remain in operation until 2032, by which time they’ll have been flying for fifty years.
That has already presented some issues, however, as Canada recently announced it won’t be sending fighter jets to patrol NATO airspace for Russian incursions next year – the first time the CF-18 has been absent from European skies.
The decision has been based on the need to upgrade the fleet to keep them flying for another decade.
Author Experience and Expertise: A Senior Editor for 19FortyFive, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer. He has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,200 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, politics, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes and Clearance Jobs. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.