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Debate over CF-18 replacement heating up

Jan. 10, 2014, Ottawa - Canada may be edging toward calling a competition to replace its aging CF-18 air force jets amid competing claims and "war" between rival suppliers Boeing and Lockheed Martin, analysts say.


January 10, 2014
By United Press International

Canadian media say the Boeing Co.'s campaign for Canada choosing its
Super Hornet as a replacement for the near obsolete CF-18 has focused on
recent U.S. budget troubles as an argument for ditching Lockheed
Martin's F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

 

Boeing has also cited existing
compatibility of its aircraft systems with the Canadian air force
requirements and ongoing collaborative projects that provide Canadian
jobs.

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The National Fighter Procurement Secretariat, likely to play
a central role in the eventual choice of Canada's fighter fleet,
recently received the military's assessments of the four competing
fighter jets, Defense Industry reported.

 

Boeing's Super Hornet and
the Lockheed Martin F-35A must also contend with rivals Rafale,
produced by Dassault Aviation of France, and the Eurofighter Typhoon,
made by the consortium of BAE Systems, EADS and Italy's Alenia
Aermacchi. However, analysts say, the contest for Canada's future
fighter fleet really boils down to the Super Hornet and F-35A.

 

"War
heats up between Lockheed Martin and Boeing in bid to replace Canada's
fighter jets," headlined the Ottawa Globe and Mail as rival executives
made a beeline for the Canadian capital last year.

 

The battle
between the two American giants has been fierce, with Lockheed Martin
asserting its F-35 stealth fighter cannot be compared to any of its
existing rivals, the newspaper said.

Lockheed Martin is arguing
the F-35 is a "fifth-generation" fighter that is a full technological
cycle ahead of all Western rivals, including Boeing's Super Hornet.

 

Boeing counters Lockheed Martin's use of the "fifth generation" moniker is a convenient marketing term.

 

Industry
analysts now see the Canadian government edging toward a competition to
give full airing to rival claims and to let Canada decide on the most
cost-effective long-term solution for its air force.

 

In October,
senior U.S. and European aviation executives urged Canada to throw the
fighter contract "wide open to competition," the Montreal Gazette
reported.

 

"If there is a competition, we will transfer all of our
technology, including the intellectual property here, with no
restrictions," Dassault Aviation Senior Vice President Yves Robins said
in comments quoted by the Gazette.

 

Canada received 138 CF-18s from
1982 to 1988. Accidents and retirements have reduced the fleet to about
103, with only 79 upgraded F/A-18 AM/BM Hornets still operational,
Defense Industry said.

 

The CF-18s are expected to be phased out
from 2017 to 2023, Defense Industry said.

 

Maintenance and upgrades will
remain necessary until then, and possibly beyond.

 

Canada is an
active partner in the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter development program, and
has spent about $160 million on concept demonstration, system
development and demonstration phases.

Canada may end up spending
more than $550 million on production, sustainment and follow-on
development phases of the F-35 program.

 

What's worrying
Canadians, however, is the total cost of adopting the fighter as its air
force's main fleet. Canada is widely expected to buy about 65 new
F-35As but the cost estimates so far have varied wildly — from $17
billion to more than $45 billion.

 

As the debate over the future
fighter rages intermittently, both F-18 refurbishment plans and Canada's
intentions regarding the F-35 have become mired in controversy.

 

"As
timelines continue to slip, these two programs have become more
interdependent — and the F-35's selection less certain," Defense
Industry said.

 

Vanguard Canada, an online forum for Canadian
defense and security, said Ottawa already has hit the reset button on
its quest for a replacement for the aging CF-18s. As expert assessments
of competing offers near conclusion, the government may decide whether
to hold an open competition, VanguardCanada.com said.