New Boeing military planes were ‘only choice’ to replace aging Auroras: officials

Click to play video: 'Canada reaches $5.9B USD deal to replace aging Aurora military fleet with Boeing aircraft: Blair'
Canada reaches $5.9B USD deal to replace aging Aurora military fleet with Boeing aircraft: Blair
WATCH: Canada reaches US$5.9B deal to replace aging Aurora military fleet with Boeing aircraft: Blair – Nov 30, 2023

Federal ministers on Thursday defended the government’s decision to award Boeing a multibillion-dollar sole-source contract to replace the military’s aging patrol aircraft by explaining the U.S. company’s plane was the only one available that can offer what the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) needs.

Ottawa will be spending up to US$5.9 billion (C$8 billion) for at least 14 P-8A Poseidon surveillance aircraft and related equipment that it will acquire from the U.S. government, with the option to bring in an additional two planes. That money is part of a total investment of $10.4 billion, the government announced, with the remainder going toward simulators, infrastructure and weapons for the new fleet. The planes are expected to be delivered in 2026 and 2027.

The decision closes the door on Quebec-based business jet maker Bombardier, which has been pushing for an open bid.

But the officials said that process would have taken too long to complete, particularly when the half-century-old CP-140 Auroras currently in use are set to reach their retirement age in 2030.

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They added the Poseidon, which is used by all the other members of the Five Eyes alliance and additional NATO allies, had the capabilities necessary for the military in the modern national security environment.

“These aircraft are not just planes, they are complex weapon systems. And the Poseidon has a proven capability with a track record of success,” Defence Minister Bill Blair said Thursday at a news conference in Ottawa.

“The certainty of this platform … made this not only the right choice, but frankly, the only choice.”

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RCAF Maj. Gen. Sylvain Menard explained to reporters that the air force needed surveillance aircraft that could defend itself from submarine attacks — something the Auroras were not built to do as that threat didn’t exist when they were built — and detect those quieter subs from the air.

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Blair noted there have been increasing incursions into Arctic waters by threat actors like Russia and China in recent years, making those detection capabilities more crucial for national security.

Having a new P-8A fleet will allow Canada to share targets and other information in real time with the U.S., United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand, as well as allies like Germany and Norway, which already use the planes, Menard added.

The new fleet will be based in Nova Scotia at 14 Wing Greenwood and in B.C. at 19 Wing Comox. The planes have a range of more than 7,000 kilometres and can be refuelled in the air using the new CC-330 Husky fleet.

The officials noted Boeing’s plane was the only one that could be acquired immediately, whereas every other potential supplier is still developing their own modern surveillance aircraft that could match the P-8A’s capabilities.

That includes Bombardier, whose CEO Eric Martel has argued that its plane, which is currently a prototype and slated to roll off the line in the early 2030s, would offer a cheaper and more high-tech alternative that’s made in Canada.

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Industry Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne, who represents a Quebec riding, called the company’s effort “a laudable goal.” But he joined his fellow ministers in presenting the P-8A as the only option currently on the table.

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He noted that Boeing has committed to establishing an “innovation centre” in Montreal —a global aerospace hub and Bombardier’s home base.

“You may say that this (procurement deal) is (with) Boeing, but I would say this is very much about Canadian aerospace industry from coast to coast,” he said.

Menard added later that the military sought information from roughly two-dozen companies before deciding to acquire the Poseidon planes.

“We reached some conclusions” — which were then reaffirmed by an independent third party — “and (concluded) that only one aircraft could meet our high-level needs. Only one,” he said in French.

“No other aircraft would be available in the next 20 years.”

Blair also acknowledged the decision to go for a sole-source deal marked a recognition the federal government needs to move faster on procurement.

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Yet he also denied that he was feeling pressure from either Canada’s allies to speed up modernization, or that the Canadian Armed Forces’ needs are “dire” despite warnings from top military leaders.

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Vice-Adm. Angus Topshee, the commander of the Royal Canadian Navy, released a new video this week warning the force is in a “critical state,” with ships that are beyond their life cycle and a severe shortage of sailors to operate them.

And the chief of the defence staff, Gen. Wayne Eyre, has repeatedly warned that Canada’s military readiness is not where it needs to be and that plans to cut close to $1 billion from the defence budget over the next four years will impact the armed forces despite assurances those savings are focused on the bureaucracy.

“I wouldn’t define the situation as ‘dire’ at all,” Blair said in response to a reporter who used that term. “But I would acknowledge that we are all seized with a sense of urgency.

“We have to continue to invest. We have to continue to move forward. We have a responsibility to keep the nation safe and to protect our national interests, and to live up to our international obligations.”

—With files from the Canadian Press

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