May 29, 2013
Title: Boeing fires shots in new Canadian air war
Sub-title: Government revision of F-35 purchase feeds new hopes at Super Hornet supplier
Boeing officials arrived at the CANSEC defence show today with guns blazing. The company’s US marketing staff, emboldened by the Canadian government’s decision to review participation in Lockheed Martin’s F-35 Lighting Joint Strike Fighter program, provided the country’s defence press with a detailed review of the advantages of its own F/A-18E/F Super Hornet. Canada has sent out information questionnaires to five potential fighter jet suppliers.
Boeing officials, who had until now for the most part remained quiet about Canada’s fighter jet procurement process, focused on what they say are the Super Hornet’s natural advantages in meeting Canada’s needs. These, they say, are for a fighter jet that can cover a vast geographical area in a rough climate. The claimed advantages include the Super Hornet’s two engines, which provide increased pilot security when patrolling the vast Arctic regions, lower unit costs as well as comparable key features in areas such as acceleration, manoeuvrability and range.
The F-35 program has been in deep trouble in Canada for many of the same reasons as in other countries. These range from delays, cost overruns and questions regarding performance. These challenges were considerably exacerbated by the release of reports by Canada’s auditor general and its Parliamentary budget officer last year, which suggested that the Conservative Harper Government green-lighted participation in the F-35 program without properly assessing alternatives and that it low-balled initial cost estimates.
Lockheed Martin has not been taking the attack lying down. In recent weeks it launched a media tour in key Canadian cities. The events were bolstered by presentations by Billy Flynn, an ex-Royal Canadian Air Force fighter pilot, who has joined the F-35 team, Lockheed has also been increasingly showcasing a slew of Canadian suppliers who have been getting work from the program, to try to build public support.
Two recent developments have increased the attractiveness of Boeing’s F-18 SuperHornet in Canada. This week Rona Ambrose, the country’s Minister for Public Works and Government Services, approved key recommendations in a report by Tom Jenkins on Canada’s defence sector procurement. These included a call for renewed focus on developing domestic defence capabilities. These play out in the fighter jet in a big way on the MRO front.
If purchased, the Super Hornets would likely be slated to be maintained at L-3 Communications facility in Mirabel Quebec, where Canada’s existing F-18s are serviced. The future of this key Canadian capability would be in serious doubt if the F-35 purchase goes ahead. Canadian government officials will also be watching the results of Australia’s recent decision to acquire new Super Hornets and thus fly a mixed fleet which also includes some F-35s.
That said, Lockheed Martin has to be regarded as the continuing front runner as the Canadian government’s decision to review the program has not (as yet) included the opening of a formal competition.
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