The Liberal government plans to request bids for a new fleet of fighter jets as early as 2019, which would coincide with the next federal election.
That move, along with the push by the Liberals to have the first of the interim Super Hornet fighter aircraft delivered by that year, could help blunt criticism about bungled military procurements and delays in buying a new jet, say military insiders and analysts.
Public Services and Procurement Canada confirmed the 2019 date for the release to industry of the request for proposals for the permanent fighter fleet.
The department also noted the government expects a deal in place by the end of 2017 or early 2018 to acquire the 18 Boeing Super Hornets as an interim measure. The Liberal government has been pushing to get the first of those planes delivered some time in 2019, industry sources say.
Defence analyst Martin Shadwick said such moves could provide political cover for the Liberals. “It could be politically useful in an election year to have both in the works,” said Shadwick, who teaches strategic studies at York University in Toronto. “That’s a pretty good way to buy some political insulation.”
Shadwick said if the first Super Hornets arrive during the election year, that in particular would be a tangible event the Liberal government could highlight.
The Liberals had promised during the last campaign to purchase a replacement for the CF-18 jet fleet, pointing out that it would go for a cheaper alternative to the controversial F-35 stealth fighter that had been selected by the Conservative government.
That’s a pretty good way to buy some political insulation
Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan announced in November the government’s decision to begin negotiations to buy 18 Boeing Super Hornets as “interim” fighter jets until a permanent fleet for the existing CF-18 aircraft could be bought.
The Liberals said Canada is facing a capability gap because it doesn’t have enough jets to fulfil its military missions, a situation Sajjan has blamed on the previous Conservative government for bungling the project to replace the aging CF-18s.
|Canadian CF-18 Hornet flies beside two Portuguese F16 Flying Falcons over Lithuania on Sept. 15, 2014.|
Cpl Gabrielle DesRochers/DNDA
“These requirements will include the number of aircraft needed, the level of in-service support required and the estimated time of delivery,” noted the recently released update from Public Services and Procurement Canada. “Planning for the competition is already underway, and we anticipate a request for proposals will be issued in 2019.”
But the Liberal plan to buy the Super Hornets has come under fire from retired Royal Canadian Air Force generals, who say it is too costly. They argue the Liberals should cancel the Super Hornet deal and proceed immediately to a competition to buy permanent replacements for the CF-18s.
Jordan Owens, a spokeswoman for Sajjan, said the government is continuing with its negotiations on the Super Hornets. “The Royal Canadian Air Force faces a significant challenge because it does not have the number of fighter aircraft available to meet Canada’s NORAD and NATO obligations if called to do so simultaneously,” Owens said.
Critics, including the Conservatives and some retired officers, have disputed that position and questioned whether there is such a gap.
The Liberals have reversed their position somewhat on the F-35. They now say they will hold an open competition for the permanent fleet of fighter jets and that Lockheed Martin is welcome to propose the F-35.