By: David Puligese,
The Royal Canadian Air Force will be operating the first nine aircraft from its new fleet of fighter jets starting in 2026, Department of National Defence officials say.
But at least one member of parliament questions whether the federal government will be able to meet its timetable to replace the CF-18 fighter fleet with advanced aircraft.
MPs on the Standing Committee on Public Accounts received more details on Monday about the Liberal government’s plan to buy 88 new fighter jets. Aircraft expected in the competition include Lockheed Martin’s F-35, the Eurofighter Typhoon, Saab’s Gripen and the Boeing Super Hornet.
Pat Finn, assistant deputy minister for material at the DND, told MPS that the formal request for proposals will go out in the spring of 2019. Negotiations would be held in 2021 and a contract awarded in 2022.
“We have tried to be very judicious and not have too risky a schedule to try to achieve some of that,” Finn explained to MPs. “But from the bids until the signing of the contract is where we’ve given ourselves two years for the competitive dialogue, the final negotiations and the various approvals we need to get, signing the contract in 2022.”
The first aircraft would be delivered in 2025. Finn said this schedule has been shared with all the potential bidders and “they’re comfortable with that approach.”
Jody Thomas, the DND deputy minister, told MPs that the plan is to “achieve initial operating capability by 2026 with nine advanced fighters ready to fulfill the NORAD mission.”
But one committee member, Conservative MP Pat Kelly, was wary of whether the aircraft acquisition would proceed as scheduled.
The plan, he told Finn, doesn’t leave a lot of margin for error. Everything would have to run like clockwork to meet the timetable and Kelly questioned if that would even be possible given the track record of defence procurement over the years. “We just don’t have time in this for the kinds of delays and the kinds of failures of procurement that we have seen in other programs,” Kelly said. “I shudder to think of what many Canadians listening to this hearing might think about. What has the potential to go wrong to get to 2025? I’m going to leave it at that.”