Janes Defence Review
December 13, 2012
Title: Canada “resets” JSF purchases
Subtitle: Government aggress to look at alternatives.
After stonewalling for months, the Canadian government this week did what many expected agreeing to “reset” its fighter jet procurement process to consider alternatives to Lockheed Martin’s F-35 JSF. The announcement was made by Defence Minister Peter McKay and Public Works and Government Services Minister Rona Ambrose.
Like many of the eight countries that initially signed on as JSF co-developers, including the UK, Australia and Italy, Canada has been having increasing doubts about its commitment, due to delays, cost overruns and continued uncertainties regarding the aircraft’s capabilities.
Canada’s Conservative Harper Government has been in deep trouble on the issue ever since the release of an auditor general’s report earlier this year, which highlighted numerous irregularities, inefficiencies and misinformation in the JSF procurement process. Particularly galling to many Canadian defence contractors, has been the government’s decision not to force Lockheed Martin to adhere to traditional offset requirements.
Things got even worse after a new report by KPMG pegged the lifetime cost of owning and operating 65 F-35 Joint Strike Fighter jets in Canada at $46 billion, five times more than the $9 billion price tag that McKay, had been brandying about.
The decision to at least consider alternatives to the JSF (such as Boeing’s Super Hornet) is important due to Canada’s unique geography. Its vast Northern territories and cold weather raise considerable questions as to whether the aircraft has the range or the durability to operate in such conditions. These constraints are further complicated by the JSF’s huge costs, which drastically limit the number that can be acquired and thus the number of locations where it can be based. Canada already operates a fleet of F-18s, an earlier Hornet version, so the fit would appear natural at first glance.
On the other hand per-aircraft JSF costs could skyrocket even further if possible US fiscal cliff related defence department cuts reduce the number of jets it orders, and economies of scale are thus trimmed.
Yet while local media have been playing up the decision to look at alternatives, there is clearly less here than meets the eye. The Harper Government has thus far avoided questions as to whether it would formally open a new bidding process. Indeed the officials have indicated that Canada would remain part of the JSF development group while the process unfolds.
This makes it even harder to back out, even if Canada did at one point wanted to.
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