Friday, January 3, 2014

Could the National Fighter Secretariat be approaching a (non)decision?

A little over a year after Canada's F-35 Lightning II purchase was "reset" due to concerns over cost and suitability, we still don't seem much closer to a decision whether to continue on with the F-35 purchase, sole source another fighter aircraft, hold a full blown competition, or soldier on with the venerable CF-18 for a few more years (decades?).

Canada's fighter jet selection process thus far...

What we do know is that meetings have been held.  Meetings discussing the estimated cost and effectiveness of extending CF-18 service.  Meetings asking for "clarification" on cost estimates.  Meetings.  Meetings.  Meetings.

Despite rumors that the ultimate decision would be postponed until the 2015 Federal election cycle, the Globe and Mail reports that the secretariat has all the information it's going to get and that it will soon announce one of the following.

  1. Go ahead with the original F-35 purchase as planned.  This, despite concerns over the cost, availability, effectiveness, etc.
  2. Declare full blown fighter competition.
  3. Follow South Korea's example and go with a reduced F-35 order, and consider another aircraft to fly alongside it.
There is a slight caveat, however.  Without declaration of a full blown competition, the secretariat was not able to receive accurate information about the fighters.  They only have a "rough order of magnitude".  This is because the fighter jet manufacturers won't reveal their "best offer" of price and the like without a serious chance of being selected.  This sort of proprietary information is available to serious shoppers only, thank you.  It is also highly dependent on timelines, number of aircraft, and exact specifications of the aircraft and maintenance.  Much like purchasing a car, you don't know all the numbers until you get into the financing room.

It could be a while yet before the CF-18 flies off into the sunset.

There is also the not-so-insignificant issue about the current CF-18 fleet.  A full blown fighter competition could mean further delays, so there is the very real possibility of needing yet another service life extension program (SLEP) on Canada's current fleet of CF-18s.  This isn't an attractive option, as it would likely cost additional millions.  Needless to say, dumping money into old, obsolete fighters instead of a replacement seems counter-productive.

There is a very real possibility that an F-35 order might be beset with delays as well, however.  Even if the program manages to hurdle over the technical obstacles associated with the JSF, there is still the rather large elephant in the room; US budget cuts.  With the Pentagon more or less running the F-35 show, the timeline for development and "peak production" (when the F-35 will be cheapest) is almost entirely up to them.

It's beginning to look more and more like Canada will need to consider some untraditional thinking in selecting its next fighter.

  1. It could mean spending millions keeping the CF-18 flying well past its prime.
  2. It could mean going "all in" with a F-35 purchase and possibly procuring them before they are ready or at an affordable price.
  3. Doing something...  Different.
What do I mean by "different"?

I've advocated for it before, and I'll do it again.  Canada should adopt a mixed fighter fleet.

I'll go into detail why in my next post.


4 comments:

  1. Good summary. I don't know how this is seen in Canada, but the official line is that JSF Program made significant advances in 2013 to lower the F-35 costs. I know that reality is far more complex but I'm feeling that could give a convenient argument to the National Fighter Secretariat to confirm F-35 order and bypass an open tender.

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  2. I believe the current price is between 182 and 188 million US gov't numbers while LM quotes 150 million

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  3. If I were in charge of replacing the CF-18, I would make the CF-35 purchase its own program (with a larger order, say ~100 aircraft) and hold an open competition to CF-18 with an order of around 160-180 aircraft.

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  4. HOLY SMOKES! That's a lot of aircraft!


    If we need the F-35 (that's a big if) I'd say no more than 20-30, with maybe 60-80 other fighters. That would bring us within spitting distance of the original order of 138 CF-18 Hornets.


    If the world's political stage changes for the worse... We can always order a few more of each.

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