Canadian firms have now won $1 billion worth of work on the F-35 fighter jet, a selling point that aircraft manufacturer Lockheed Martin hopes to use as it prepares for an expected competition to replace the CF-18 fleet.
Cabinet officials met recently to discuss the way forward on a CF-18 fighter replacement and industry sources say they now expect the Liberal government to eventually proceed to a competition to buy new aircraft.
Aerospace firms are shifting into high gear for that event, although the timing of an announcement is unknown.
Marillyn Hewson, Lockheed Martin’s CEO, will be in Ottawa Tuesday for a major aerospace conference and various meetings, while Pratt and Whitney officials will be highlighting details about the F-35 engine the firm builds.
Shelley Lavender, the president of Boeing Military Aircraft, will be in Ottawa on Thursday for the same conference. Lavender was program manager for Boeing’s Super Hornet aircraft, one of the F-35’s rivals in any Canadian competition.
Jordan Owens, spokeswoman for Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan, said Monday that work is still underway on determining how to replace the CF-18. Sajjan has said the procurement strategy would be decided in months, not years, as the CF-18s need to be replaced quickly.
The minister has noted he prefers an open competition.
|Jack Boland/Postmedia NetworkA U.S. Navy F/A 18 Super Hornet performs at the Canadian International Air Show at the CNE in Toronto, Sept. 4, 2016.|
Lockheed Martin said Monday that while in Canada, Hewson will meet with company employees and “numerous Canadian stakeholders to Lockheed Martin.”
Jack Crisler, one of Lockheed Martin’s senior F-35 officials, told Postmedia in August that it looked like the F-35 would be included in any competition.
The stealth fighter became a political nightmare for the Conservative government after it pledged to buy 65 of the planes. The F-35 was plagued with technology problems. U.S. lawmakers were complaining about its cost.
Last year Donald Trump, then one of a number of Republican presidential candidates, complained about the cost of the F-35 and the technology issues affecting the aircraft. “I do hear that it’s not very good,” he said during an October 2015 radio interview. “I’m hearing that our existing planes are better.”
But Trump, now president-elect, has not indicated what, if anything, he will do about the F-35 program.
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However, stock market analysts are seeing positive news for defence company stocks, including Lockheed Martin, because of Trump’s election, as he has promised to revamp the U.S. military.
Lockheed Martin officials are keen for a competition since they believe their aircraft can readily beat other planes. The F-35 won in competitions in Denmark, Japan and South Korea, they add.
In June, Lockheed Martin almost saw its hopes of selling planes to Canada disappear completely. The government was close to moving on an interim purchase of Super Hornet jets from Boeing and Trudeau claimed the F-35 “does not work and is far from working.”
That prompted Lockheed Martin to warn that Canadian companies who had contracts on the F-35 would suffer. After that, plans for a Super Hornet interim deal seemed to disappear.
The F-35 has been declared ready for combat by the U.S. Air Force although critics have pointed out that much work still needs to be done on the aircraft. Two F-35s visited Canada for the first time at the August airshow in Abbotsford, B.C.