Mark Collins – New RCAF Fighter: Consult, Consult, Consult (with industry)–Why Not Just Compete?

Keep in mind that the previous government already conducted an extensive “evaluation of options” for the CF-18 replacement in 2013-14 but then made no procurement decision before losing the October 2015 election–some key documents:

Evaluation of Options to Sustain a Canadian Forces Fighter Capability: Terms of Reference

Statement by the Independent Review Panel regarding the Royal Canadian Air Force Report to Ministers on the Evaluation of Options to Sustain a Canadian Forces Fighter Capability

A Method for Evaluating Mission Risk for the National Fighter Procurement Evaluation of Options

Summary Report – The Evaluation of Options for the Replacement of the CF-18 Fighter Fleet

Now the new government, faced with a serious sole-sourcing dust-up (see here and here), says it is going to go through another evaluation of sorts. Political CYA of the most blatant sort. Why not simply hold a proper, formal competition (the Danes just finished one; see also “Alan Stephenson – Flying Blind on Procurement“)?

And given that the Boeing Super Hornet and Lockheed Martin F-35A are almost certainly the alternatives for the RCAF, what incentive is there for the makers of the Rafale and Typhoon to take the new exercise seriously (all four planes were evaluated the last time based on manufacturer-supplied data; SAAB did not bother to participate with its Gripen). Canadian round and round we go procurement nonsense.

Sajjan announces new consultations on fighter jets
Minister says Canada can’t meet current NATO, NORAD commitments with CF-18s

In the latest turn in a fraught procurement process that seems to be as much of a headache for this government as it was for the last one, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan announced today [July 6] that after months of jockeying by aviation interests over the contract to replace Canada’s CF-18 fighter jets, the Trudeau government is launching a new round of consultations on the issue with military allies and industry suppliers.

Sajjan says Canada isn’t currently able to meet both its NATO and NORAD commitments because of a capability gap with its aging CF-18s [just discovered conveniently under this government; in 2014 the Hornets’ life expectancy was officially set to 2020 and an extension to 2025 was judged quite reasonable–but nothing has been done by either government to carry out that extension–see from April this year: “RCAF: Decisions Needed on Extending CF-18 Hornets’ Service to 2025“] and that officials from his department and others are gearing up to meet with allies and aircraft manufacturers over the summer before making any decisions on a replacement aircraft.

Sajjan explained the plan Wednesday morning to a group of Canadian defence industry stakeholders who gathered to take part in the final roundtable in the consultations on the government’s Defence Policy Review. In his remarks, which were open to the media, Sajjan stressed the Canadian Forces are having to “risk manage” their contributions to each military alliance but declined to say what kind of timeline he is considering — or whether an open competition is still the plan [emphasis added].

“We’re at the phase of getting enough information,” Sajjan said when asked specifically by a reporter during the earlier media availability whether he still planned to hold an open competition. “No decision has been made on procurement.”..

Boeing has been campaigning hard behind the scenes for months to position itself as a contender to Lockheed Martin, the firm building the F-35.

Under the government’s new plan to consult with “all interested aircraft suppliers,” officials from the Department of National Defence, Public Services and Procurement Canada and Innovation, Science and Economic Development will gather information they say is needed before making a decision [LOOK. IN. THE. BLOODY. FILES!].

Specifically, the team will look for information on aircraft capabilities, readiness, availability, whether it is compatible with Canadian infrastructure, acquisition costs, maintenance, life-cycle costs and economic benefits.

As well, the team will also meet with allies to get their perspectives on lessons learned and their experiences with various aircraft options.

The first formal consultation will take place next week when the team heads to the Farnborough Airshow near London, England.

More from the Canadian Press which recalls the previous government’s exercise and raises questions about that “capability gap”:

It’s not the first time the government has held such consultations. The Conservatives launched a similar exercise in December 2012 as it pressed pause on its plans to purchase the F-35 stealth fighter.

Those consultations, which were overseen by an independent panel, included a fulsome assessment of what Canada needs in a new fighter jet, and what options were available. The final report, released in December 2014, came out favourably for the F-35 [not publicly–see “Summary Report” at first quote above and see also “Canada rates F-35A rivals equal on most missions”].

Critics, however, said such consultations could not replace an open competition as there was no way to fully test each company’s claims.

…Sajjan did emphasize the need to replace the Royal Canadian Air Force’s 77 CF-18s quickly. Only about half the fleet is available for operations at any given time, he said, which is not enough to meet Canada’s commitments to NATO and North American defence.

“Today, the number of mission-ready aircraft we can deploy on an average day is actually less than the number of planes we are committed to have ready,” he said. “The capability gap will get worse in the years ahead as CF-18s must be taken out of service [life extension? ].”

Critics have previously questioned such assertions, pointing to Air Force commander Lt.-Gen. Michael Hood’s testimony before the Commons defence committee in April as proof the Liberals have manufactured a crisis.

Hood said the CF-18 fleet should be able to operate through 2025 thanks to a $500-million upgrade ordered by the Conservatives in 2014 [no, no contracts have been signed–see above]. Twenty-six out of the 77 fighters have already undergone structural work to fly through the mid-2020s, and electronic upgrades are planned.

Sajjan, however, said even with the upgrades, Canada will be hard-pressed in a few years just to defend North America with the U.S. unless new aircraft are delivered. At the same time, the shortage means Canada isn’t able to contribute to other, non-NATO missions…

Farce, flipping farce. The endless Canadian Procurement Gong Show!

Mark Collins, a prolific Ottawa blogger, is a Fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute; he tweets @Mark3Ds


24 thoughts on “Mark Collins – New RCAF Fighter: Consult, Consult, Consult (with industry)–Why Not Just Compete?”

  1. One can readily see how the government is scripting this:

    1) Urgent need for some fighters (24=two squadrons, one for Cold Lake, one Bagotville?) to deal with “capability gap”;

    2) Only Boeing can provide really soon;

    3) Ergo must buy Super Hornets as interim measure; and then end up buying all Super Hornet fleet as a mixed fleet too expensive.


    Mark Collins

  2. More at (further links at original):

    ‘F-35 Tug o’ War

    “Harjit Sajjan going back to drawing board on fighter jets, launching consultations” – “Le ministre Sajjan discute approvisionnement avec des représentants de l’industrie “ – “Ottawa to develop new requirements for fighter jet purchase” – “Government must move ‘quickly’ on selecting new fighter jet, but plan remains in the air: Defence Minister” – “Canada to Upgrade Jets Due to Inability to Meet NATO, NORAD Commitments”

    Info-machine version: “Minister Sajjan Meets with Defence Industry Representatives as Part of Defence Policy Review”

    3D’s Mark Collins: “New RCAF Fighter: Consult, Consult, Consult (with industry)–Why Not Just Compete?”

    Good question … “Is Canada’s ‘capability gap’ military or political?”..’

    Mark Collins

  3. A friend with long acquaintance with defence matters replies:

    “One way the procurement process can be fixed is to think of buying your underwear at Sears: off-the-shelf Stanfields.
    So that could be called a non-procurement, procurement process. Call it ‘shopping’.

    Seriously, we have backed ourselves into a corner with these incredibly complex processes to the point where losing firms believe they have court cases to overturn decisions. We should just qualify short lists and then chose something. It might not be the very best widget but the services would have equipment instead of unsafe trucks and maintenance sinkholes for cash etc. And it would be stuff being bought by our allies in most cases. Minimal change could lead to joint buys for some items, big and small.

    Industrial benefits would remain a problem and there may not be any way around this issue.”

    Help. As for legal action see:

    “Canadian Army Truckin’ at Last (whiff of porc?)–Not So Fast! Good Grief Section”

    Mark Collins

  4. Capability gap? What capability gap?

    ‘Canada’s CF-18s can fly into next decade, despite push for new jets

    The Department of National Defence predicts that its fleet of CF-18s will be able to fly into the next decade, even as Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan ramps up his calls for an urgent purchase of new fighter jets to ward off an eventual “capability loss.”

    “Some aircraft could begin to be retired beginning in 2023,” said a document provided last week to the five aircraft manufacturers in the race to offer new fighter jets.

    Over all, the Canadian Armed Forces are working to “extend the fleet to 2025” as part of a series of upgrades, said the document, which was also provided to The Globe and Mail.

    As he announced a two-month-long consultation with the defence industry last week, Mr. Sajjan doubled down on talk of a disparity between the current availability of the CF-18 fleet and Canada’s commitments to NORAD and NATO.

    “I can’t be any more clear. A capability gap will lead to a capability loss if we do not address it,” Mr. Sajjan told reporters.

    He added that the Canadian Forces have adopted a risk-management strategy to deal with the scarcity of available aircraft, and he wants to put an end to the practice. Because of maintenance issues, he said, only about half the fleet of 77 fighter jets is available at any given time…’

    One would like to know for how long the readiness rate has been similar to the current situation. One suspects for quite some time–but just now publicized and exploited for political purposes.

    Mark Collins

  5. Then there’s that pesky Turkish coup attempt and following mass purge–Turkey supposed to be buying F-35As:

    “Turkey, or, Failed Coup in the Land of the Sublime Erdogan the Magnificent”

    Mark Collins

  6. By at (further link at original):

    “This, from VICE:

    If newly-obtained documents are any indication, Canada may become the first country to scrap its order for the American F-35 fighter jet, the most expensive weapons program ever. Letters sent to the big industry players are just further evidence that the government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is set to pull the trigger on a whole new open competition to pick Canada’s next generation of fighter jet.

    That competition will likely favour an out-of-the-box jet, over the expensive F-35.

    Industry sources confirmed that the government set up meetings with big-name players in the aerospace industry in recent weeks to figure out its next steps in buying a new fighter jet — this, even though it’s technically already on the hook to buy 65 of the F-35 Lightning II jets, manufactured by Lockheed Martin.

    Those face-to-face meetings took place with representatives from two US companies: Boeing, Lockheed Martin itself; Sweden’s Saab; the French Dassault; and the European multinational consortium Eurofighter. All of them make fighters that, while less advanced than the stealthy F-35, are vastly cheaper.

    The meetings follow a 38-page questionnaire, provided to VICE News, which was sent to the five industry players, asking them to lay out the pros and cons of their jets.

    ( … )

    The letters, sent July 7, have a due date of July 29 for the submission of proposals.

    A spokesperson for the Department of National Defense wouldn’t comment on the letters, but indicated that they would be posted publicly next week …”,22809.msg1446630.html#msg1446630

    Mark Collins

  7. Interesting thought at

    “Simple solution? Restrict the RCAF fighters to NORAD. Voila. F35’s advantages (once functional) become less critical. Plus you’ll need fewer aircraft, and can refocus the RCAF on air mobility, tactical aviation and maritime patrol. In many parts of the world (Canada included), more transport and ISR would be tremendous assets.”,120786.msg1446875.html#msg1446875

    Mark Collins

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