By Tim Naumetz, iPolitics
The planned government acquisition of a new fleet of 88 fighter jets will not be completed with full operational capability until 2031 – 14 years after defence and procurement officials launched the project last December.
A timetable for the acquisition that was shared with aerospace industry representatives at an industry event on Jan. 22 confirms there will be at least four years of information exchanges with potential suppliers and contract bidders before a contract award in either 2021 or 2022.
Following another two-years set-up phase for aspects involving infrastructure, future maintenance, facility development, operations and “initial cadre training” at the “host nation” producing the aircraft, the first aircraft delivery is scheduled for 2025.
After that, another six years are slated for gradual acquisition of the fleet and pilot training, with an acquisition average of at least 12 jets each year and “steady state full operational capacity” in 2031.
By then, three federal elections will have been held since the project’s launch in December 2017.
2031 is also the year the timetable projects for the retirement of what remains of Canada’s legacy fleet of CF-18 hornets – already upgraded and modernized several times since their acquisition under the government of Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau in the 1980s.
A military expert says the time frame would be routine for a project of similar scope and complexity, but the CF-18 replacement project has been in the works since at least 2007.
“If you’re looking at a project of that degree and complexity, from a genuine start point 14 years is probably not at all out of the ordinary,” said David Perry, senior analyst and a vice-president of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute.
“But the thing is, this file did not start on December 12. The previous government did an exhaustive review of options. The clock on this starts at least a decade ago,”
All of the aircraft from five different companies in Europe and the United States who have been invited to compete underwent a thorough market analysis under the Conservatives. The Harper government suspended its plan to acquire 65 Lockheed-Martin F-35 warplanes following a raging controversy after the 2011 federal election.
“All timelines are estimated and subject to change,” the briefing document said, a copy of which was obtained by iPolitics.
National Defence and Procurement Canada officials at the project’s launch last Dec. 12 said the acquisition is expected to cost between $15 billion and $19 billion, not counting infrastructure, training, other development aspects and sustainment through the fleet’s lifetime.
The estimate works out to an expected cost of between $170 million and $216 million per fighter jet with a fleet of 88.