As long-time readers know, the summer months tend to be a slow time here at bestfighter4canada.
The House of Commons is on its summer break, so major announcements tend to be few and far between... Especially in a non-election year. With a dearth of stuff to report on (and an all too short Canadian summer), your humble writer lacks the will to sit at a keyboard... Barring the occasional "summer surprise" like a missed air show appearance due to fire.
This summer feels different, however.
While there will be the typical "summer slow down", it will hopefully be a prelude to an much busier time. The upcoming year will see Canada's CF-18 replacement program begin in earnest.
As the selection process slowly churns, expect the fighter manufacturers to ramp up their marketing efforts. Unlike the past, when the F-35 was the defacto choice and the other alternatives were merely paid lip service, this could be (hopefully) be anyone's game.
If anything, the recent political maelstrom has conspired to put the American options at a distinct disadvantage to their European competitors. The current Trudeau government campaigned on ditching the Lockheed Martin F-35. Normally, this would give Boeing an incredible advantage... But we know how that went.
This does not necessarily mean the American contestants are disqualified; far from it. Ties run deep between the Canadian military and the US military industrial complex. Deeper than (hopefully) a temporary blip in the American political landscape. Those hoping for a strict battle between the Eurocanards may be in for disappointment.
As always, the ultimate decision will come down to the three "P"s. PERFORMANCE, PRICE, and POLITICS.
Recent events would seem to indicate a perfect storm (pun intended) for the Eurofighter Typhoon.
Airbus' recent white knight actions toward the Bombardier C Series has certainly given it a political advantage. Hopefully the relationship between Bombardier and Airbus is mutually beneficial and not predatory.
While now would seem to be the perfect time for Canada to beef up its European relations, it may be easier said than done. Europe's political climate has been rather scattershot as of late. With the United States of Trumpistan at the forefront in the news, it is easy to forget about Brexit, Italian uncertainty, and the Spanish imposition. Of all the Eurofighter partner nations, only Germany shines a beacon of stability.
The Typhoon may also come up short when it comes to affordability. It is a notoriously expensive to both procure and operate, with Austria giving up on the platform altogether thanks to high cost. This does not bode well when you consider Canada already passed on the F-35 due to sticker shock. Thankfully, the NATO-centric Typhoon would be pretty much "plug-and-play" with existing RCAF infrastructure.
Eurofighter need not make any any apologies when it comes to the the Typhoon's capability, however. It boasts impressive performance numbers, cutting edge technology, and a varied weapon selection. It is certainly capable of meeting Canada's needs.
Dassault RafaleAt first (and second) glance, the Rafale would seem to be an excellent fit for Canada.
Like the CF-18, the Rafale was designed to be an "do-it-all" fighter. Dassault's fighter matches or exceeds the CF-18's speed, range, payload, and maneuverability. Compared to more modern fighters, the Rafale is still an impressive package. It does lack some features however; most notably a HMD.
Cost wise, the Rafale is slightly more affordable than the Eurofighter. Unfortunately for the Canadian market, it would need some additional effort to integrate current stockpile of AMRAAMs, AIM-9 Sidewinders, etc.
Following the latest G7 summit, Canada-French relations seem to be stronger than at anytime in recent memory. Not that that relations were that bad to begin with, just that Trudeau and Macron seem to be of similar mind. Canada and France are avid economic partners, but not at the same level Canada is with Germany or Britain.
Boeing Super Hornet
What was once a "sure thing" for the RCAF has now become a long-shot.
The Super Hornet is a perfectly suitable workhorse of a fighter, but it lags behind the others when it comes to performance. Planned upgrades hope to rectify some of this, but it is clear that the F-35 Lightning II is the Pentagon's current darling.
Affordability seems to be the Super Hornet's strongest selling point. It is a rugged, proven design slots into legacy Hornet infrastructure. Only the single-engine Gripen promises a cheaper cost-per-flight-hour.
Boeing has its work cut out for them repairing its tarnished Canadian reputation. We all know the story.
Lockheed Martin Lightning II
Like the Super Hornet, the F-35 was also pretty much a "sure thing" for Canada. Years of controversy has resulted in it becoming a bit of a political football. Perhaps the new nickname ("Panther") will help?
Much has been said about the F-35's capabilities compared to others. To make a long story short, the "Panther" compromises raw performance numbers in favor of stealth. While it may not be the fastest or most agile beast in the sky, in theory it does not need to be.
The JSF's performance may be controversial, but not nearly so much as its price. After years of development and low rate production, procurement and sustainment costs are still anyone's guess. Making matters worse for Canada is the F-35's need for additional infrastructure to support its stealth and trouble prone logistics system. The F-35A also requires aerial refueling assets that Canada does not currently have.
Like the Super Hornet, the F-35 has a tough road to travel when it comes to Canadian politics. PM Justin Trudeau campaigned on cancelling the JSF purchase. A trade war between the USA and Canada certainly does not help either. Ties between Canada and the American Military Industrial Complex run deep however. Lockheed Martin also has the distinct advantage of being the only American fighter manufacturer that isn't Boeing.
Performance: Anywhere from B to D depending on hype.
The Saab Gripen has always been the dark horse in the competition to become Canada's next fighter. Yet as time has gone by, fate seems to have tipped the scales further in its favor.
The Gripen comes close to matching the Eurofighter Typhoon in performance. As close as a small, single-engined fighter can, anyway. It lacks the payload capability of larger fighters, but gives up little in terms of technology and aerial prowess.
Affordability is were the Gripen shines. Saab intentionally avoids the "money is no object" market, concentrating on militaries shopping on a budget instead. Its smaller size and simpler construction make it cheaper on fuel and easier to maintain.
While Canada and Sweden are on friendly terms, those ties do not run as deep as they do with the US, European Union, or even France. Sweden simply does not have the political or economic clout compared to the others. However, the Gripen utilizes components originating from Europe and the US... So there is that.
So how will things play out? Given the turmoil of the last few years, it could be anyone's guess.
At this point in time, it would seem the Super Hornet has very little chance. Things would have to change considerably for Boeing to get back into Canada's good graces.
Dassault also seems to be a long-shot currently. While the Rafale is a good fighter, it has trouble standing out compared to the more politically attractive Typhoon or economically attractive Gripen.
Politically, the Typhoon certainly seems like the most attractive option at the moment. In a vacuum, it would be a easy choice. It becomes a harder sell when compared to two vastly different fighters, however.
The F-35 promises a paradigm shift in fighter tactics. It also has massive amounts a momentum on its side. Its marketing still promises a massive drop in price as it matures, something the Typhoon cannot claim.
The Typhoon is also a tougher sell when compared to the much more affordable Gripen. Affordability becomes an even bigger factor when you consider Canada has upped its requirement from 65 fighters to 88. Add a proven cold weather track record and what was once a dark horse starts to edge its way to the front.
In the end, Canada's choice will depend on how much weight is placed on each factor. Do we go with the safe choice, the newcomer with all the hype, or the screaming bargain?
All we can do is stay tuned...