Canada’s Defence Department is looking to replace the CF-18 fighter jets, which have been in service since 1984, with U.S. aircraft known as Joint Strike Fighters (JSF). Over the past few years $1.8 billion has been spent on modernizing the CF-18s, which were recently rumored to be Canada’s next contribution to the war in Afghanistan.
Now the government is reportedly considering spending up to $10 billion to replace the newly modernized CF-18s. It is still unclear how much this purchase will cost Canadian taxpayers. Steven Staples, President of the Rideau Institute, says that “Canada is making a mistake putting so much money into JSF when there are cheaper and just as effective fighter aircraft on the market. Lower-cost unmanned aerial vehicles or UAVs are also expected to take over from fighter aircraft in the future”, and he stated that “most forward-looking air forces realize that next generation UAVs will dominate the future so they’re putting their efforts into those areas.”
Defence officials have maintained that no decision has been made on whether JSF specifically will be purchased, yet government officials have also promoted the benefits of the JSF program for the country’s aerospace industry. One thing is certain, Harper government will be establishing a long-term defence plan involving potentially billions of dollars in purchase of planes to replace the CF-18s that have already cost almost $2 billion in modernization alone. The purchase of JSF’s to replace Canada’s current aircraft also seems likely given the fact that since 2002 Canada has been involved in the JSF program’s System Development and Demonstration Phase with an investment of $150 million.
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By David Pugliese, The Ottawa CitizenAugust 21, 2009
The Defence Department is recommending a multibillion-dollar sole source purchase of a U.S. stealth-like aircraft to replace Canada’s CF-18 fighter jets.
Work is under way on a presentation to cabinet for approval to buy 65 Joint Strike Fighters, known as JSF, even though military leaders had earlier claimed that a competitive process would be followed in any CF-18 replacement.
It is unclear how much the deal would cost taxpayers. At one point, the Defence Department estimated the full cost of replacing the CF-18 fleet would be around $10 billion, but that was based on the purchase of 80 planes as well as long-term support for those jets. Another estimate produced by the department noted that it was looking at spending $3.8 billion on a JSF purchase, but that was just for the aircraft alone.
The Harper government has announced that its long-term defence plan would see the purchase of planes to replace the CF-18s, although it did not specify the JSF. The CF-18 fleet — the first one entered service in 1984 — has been modernized over the years in a $1.8-billion program, and is expected to be phased out between 2017 and 2020.
Officials with Lockheed Martin, the U.S. firm building the JSF, said they expect Canada to make its decision over the next 12 months.
But in May, Lockheed Martin’s competitors were in Ottawa promoting their fighter planes, which they say are cheaper.
“We believe we are much less expensive than the JSF and we have industrial benefits for Canadian industry available right now,” said Boeing official Glenn Erutti. Boeing is trying to interest Canada in an advanced F-18 aircraft called the Super Hornet.
BAE Systems and Saab Aerospace were also interested in offering aircraft to Canada. Industry representatives are divided over the JSF; some say the program will provide major benefits for Canada’s aerospace industry, but others note only a limited number of companies will see work from that contract and better benefits might be gained from a competition to replace the CF-18s.
There has also been some concern among nations, including Canada, about the final price of the JSF. Last year, Lockheed Martin announced it was looking at offering Canada and other nations interested in the aircraft a deal that would see the price of each plane ordered set at around $50 million in return for a commitment to purchase by a certain time.
Defence Department spokeswoman Annie Arcand said no decision has been made by the government on the choice of a next generation fighter aircraft or on the procurement approach for that.
“The Department of National Defence anticipates that the next generation fighter capability project will be advanced to government in due course.”
Canada has already invested $150 million U.S. in JSF. The government has also decided to take part in the next phase of the aircraft’s development, agreeing to invest around $500 million U.S. over the next 45 years to pay for the specialized equipment for JSF production. But according to government officials that investment does not automatically mean that Canada will buy the JSF.
Lockheed Martin vice-president Tom Burbage says Canada has had a continued commitment to the JSF program. “Canada has been evaluating its options for a CF-18 replacement for several years and, like other partner countries, needs to work through their approval and procurement process,” he stated. “We are, of course, encouraged by reports indicating that Canada is considering the F-35 as its next generation fighter.”
Rideau Institute president Steve Staples said Canada is making a mistake putting so much money into JSF when there are cheaper and just as effective fighter aircraft on the market. Lower-cost unmanned aerial vehicles or UAVs are also expected to take over from fighter aircraft in the future, added Staples, whose organization has criticized what it considers the government’s excessive level of defence spending.
“Most forward-looking air forces realize that next generation UAVs will dominate the future so they’re putting their efforts into those areas,” he said.
Defence officials have always maintained that no decision has been made on whether JSF should be purchased. But a 2006 briefing report produced by the office of Dan Ross, the assistant deputy minister for materiel, concluded that JSF was the plane best suited for Canada.
Government officials have promoted the benefits of the JSF program for the country’s aerospace industry. They say Canadian firms have been awarded around 150 JSF contracts, so far. Canadian industrial opportunities are expected to total more than $5 billion U.S. over the life of the JSF program, they maintain.
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