Wings Magazine

Competitive process needed to select next fighter jet

Aug. 11, 2014, Ottawa - In late 2008, the Royal Canadian Air Force briefed me on its efforts to identify a replacement for Canada’s aging CF-18 fleet. As the former director-general of Capability Development at DND and defence advisor to the Prime Minister’s Privy Council Office, I was surprised to learn that the Air Force was recommending the sole source acquisition of the F-35.

August 11, 2014  By C.S. Sullivan Special to the Globe

Most alarming was that this internal Air Force decision had been
taken without a “Statement of Requirement”, without a competitive
process, and, as I was to learn later, with no clear understanding of
program costs or the aircraft’s final operational capability. Although
concerned, I departed for Afghanistan for duty as NATO’s Air Component
Commander, comforted in knowing that the Government would not approve
the largest military procurement program in Canadian history without an
open and thorough competitive process.


As we have learned, the
exact opposite occurred. The Air Force’s internal decision to
sole-source the F-35 was embraced by the minister of defence and
endorsed by the government, knowing that there had been no competitive
process. To the relief of many, the Auditor-General created the
opportunity for the Government to reconsider its F-35 decision.



strategic military planners use a capability-based methodology, not the
U.S.-styled threat-based approach, to identify future military
capabilities and equipment. Recognizing that Canada’s military “can’t do
everything”, a capability-based approach allows planners to focus on
defence and security scenarios that are most relevant and most likely
for Canadian foreign and defence policy goals and objectives. The U.S.
threat-based approach focuses on worst-case scenarios and threats that,
no matter how unlikely such scenarios might be, are unavoidable for the
world’s preeminent global superpower. Countries that have purchased the
F-35 have non-discretionary defence missions far different than Canada.


this reason, Lockheed-Martin designed the F-35 to be a stealthy strike
fighter with the ability to carrying out pre-emptive and retaliatory
strikes against China and Russia. Although assessed as highly unlikely
that Canada would participate in these types of “discretionary” combat
missions, it was this type of threat-based scenario that Canada’s Air
Force surprisingly used to justify its selection of the F-35.


identify the most suitable fighter aircraft requires an open and
transparent competitive process. Only a competition can rigorously
measure the capabilities of each competing aircraft against Canada’s
non-discretionary defence mission requirements. Non-discretionary
missions are those related to domestic security operations, air
sovereignty missions across Canada’s high Arctic, homeland defence
operations, and continental defence and security. Non-discretionary
missions define the mandatory requirements that need to guide the selection of Canada’s next fighter aircraft.


of the four contenders – Boeing’s Super Hornet, Dassault’s Rafale, and
Eurofighter’s Typhoon – meet and, in many cases, exceed the mandatory
requirements of Canada’s non-discretionary missions. Surprisingly,
Lockheed Martin’s F-35 would not fare as well given its most notable
deficiencies: air refueling capability incompatible with Canada’s tanker
fleet; no tail-hook for landings on icy runways and in the high Arctic;
and a single-engine aircraft with limited range and payload. Losing an
engine on a twin-engine fighter is a non-event. An engine failure on a
single-engine fighter is catastrophic.


As F-35 users in the U.S.,
Australia and the U.K. have confessed – but seemingly not to Canada –
the narrowly-focused strike capability of the F-35 will require close
integration with other air superiority and multi-role fighters for
decades to come. A mixed fleet approach is required to address the
narrowly-focused capabilities of the F-35, which are capabilities that
are not a good fit for Canada’s non-discretionary missions.


If the
government of Canada is interested in selecting the most appropriate
fighter aircraft to meet Canada’s defence needs, then the rigour of a
competitive process seems to be the only way forward.


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