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Military fighter jet report puts ball in Ottawa’s court

Jan. 6, 2014, Ottawa - The Canadian Forces have finished exploring the world market for fighter jets, putting pressure on the government to decide whether to launch a competition or forge ahead with the sole-sourced purchase of F-35s before the next election.


January 6, 2014
By The Globe and Mail

According to documents posted on a federal website on Thursday, the
Canadian Forces have already prepared draft reports on the price, the
technical capabilities and the strategic advantages of the four fighter
jets in the running.

“The process is nearly finished,” said an official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

 

The
newly released documents suggest the government will have to make its
decision in short order because of concerns over the viability of the
current fleet of CF-18s, which is set to be phased out between 2017 and
2023.

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Any decision on the life extension of the CF-18s will depend
on Ottawa’s main choice in coming months: whether to launch a
full-blown competition for new aircraft, which could take years, or
proceed with its initial decision to directly buy a fleet of 65
Lockheed-Martin F-35s, a high-tech aircraft that is still in
development.

 

The process is designed to help the government weigh
the risks associated with both scenarios and choose the best option for
the Canadian Forces and taxpayers.

 

The Auditor-General slammed
Ottawa’s previous acquisition plan in a report that fuelled a political
firestorm in the spring of 2012. There was speculation at the time the
government’s seven-point response could bring a final decision after the
2015 general election.

 

However, the process is moving along
swiftly, according to the public summary of meetings of an “independent
review panel” that is monitoring the government’s process, which means
that the F-35 is set to be a hot political file once again.

 

The
Royal Canadian Air Force presented a series of draft reports to the
review panel in late November and early December, including the initial
version of the Public Report on the Evaluation of Options that will
eventually be released at large.

 

In addition, the RCAF is
finishing up its “Integrated Mission Risk Assessment,” that is nearly
ready to be presented to a committee of deputy ministers, the documents
said. According to the government’s process, the committee of deputy
ministers will then present a series of options to

 

Prime Minister
Stephen Harper and his cabinet, which will make the final decision on
the process.

 

In its 2012 report, the Auditor-General criticized
the government’s sole-sourced acquisition process, and raised questions
about the long-term cost of the program.

 

The government responded
by creating a National Fighter Procurement Secretariat to oversee its
new acquisition process, stating that it was “hitting the reset button.”

 

One
of the first steps was to launch an “options analysis” to compare the
cost and capabilities of the four fighter jets in contention for the
$40-billion contract: the F-35, the Dassault Rafales, the Boeing Super
Hornet and the Eurofighter Typhoon.

 

However, the Canadian Forces
informed the panel of independent experts that it has not managed to
obtain detailed financial information from the four aircraft
manufacturers. Instead, the government is currently operating with a
“rough order of magnitude,” which suggests that Ottawa will need to
launch a full competition if it wants guarantees that it is getting the
best possible price for its new fighter jets.

 

The federal
government announced to great fanfare in 2010 it would forgo an open
competition and buy the Lockheed F-35 because it was the only plane that
would serve Canada’s needs. The

Conservatives defended the decision in
the 2011 election and often excoriated critics who suggested they had
made a mistake.

 

In late 2012, however, the government backed away
from its decision as it launched its new process, including the
evaluation of the F-35’s major rivals.

 

“What’s important here is
that we act on these recommendations, that we deliver to Canadians the
certainty, the surety they require that they’re getting the right
aircraft for our country for the long term and that we’re being
responsible with taxpayers’ dollars,” then-defence minister Peter MacKay
said.