U.S. officials warned the Trudeau government that its plan to hold an open competition to replace its aging CF-18s is incompatible with Canada’s obligations as a member of the F-35 stealth-fighter program.
The warnings are in two letters sent to the government last year that were obtained by defence analyst Richard Shimooka and released in a report published by the Macdonald-Laurier Institute think-tank.
The letters specifically take issue with the government’s plan to have each fighter-jet maker commit to re-investing in Canada if its aircraft wins the upcoming competition aimed at buying 88 new planes for $19 billion.
While that is standard for most Canadian military procurements, the U.S. officials note that Canada agreed not to apply such a requirement when it signed on as one of nine F-35 partner countries in 2006.
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Companies in those countries are instead allowed to compete for work associated with the plane, and the U.S. officials say imposing requirements as a condition to bid will mean the F-35 won’t be entered in the race.
Canada has contributed roughly $500 million over the past 20 years toward developing the F-35, which now is expected to compete against three other aircraft to replace the CF-18s.
In a press conference following the release of the report, Conservative defence critic James Bezan accused the government of jeopardizing Canada’s military alliances by refusing to heed to warnings from the country’s closest ally.
Rob Nicholson, a Conservative MP who is also a member of the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians, also called the report’s findings “deeply troubling.”
The report comes just ahead of an expected launch later this month of the long-delayed call for tenders, marking the start of the official competition to replace Canada’s aging fleet of CF-18 fighter jets.
The Canadian government previously committed to joining Lockheed Martin’s Joint Strike Fighter Program and to buy the F-35 stealth fighter jet it produces.
But ballooning costs and bungled estimates on the price of the procurement caused a political uproar that forced the former Conservative government to freeze the plans to buy the jet, and the procurement has been delayed ever since.
During the 2015 election, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau vowed both not to buy the F-35 and also to hold an open competition to find a replacement.
His government later acknowledged it could not hold an open competition with one bidder locked out.
That competition process is expected to take roughly five years and push the timeline for actually acquiring new jets even further down the road.
Because of that, Trudeau also said in December 2017 that the government will buy an “interim” fleet of 18 used jets from Australia to help fill what it has described as a “capability gap” in allowing the military to meet both its NATO and NORAD commitments at the same time.
Air force officials have disputed those claims, saying the military does not need to be able to meet both commitments at the same time.
That cost of the interim replacement was pegged at roughly half a billion dollars.
Roughly $15 to $19 billion will be set aside for the full competition.
With files from Global News