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Competition heats up as Ottawa reviews options to procure costly F-35 fighter jets

By Tim Naumetz      

The Boeing aerospace company has provided the Canadian government with cost and capability data for an advanced version of its F-18 Super Hornet fighter jet which Boeing suggests would cost $1.7-billion less for a fleet of 65 jets than the Lockheed Martin F-35 stealth fighter project that the federal government has temporarily put on hold.

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PARLIAMENT HILL—The Boeing aerospace company has provided the Canadian government with cost and capability data for an advanced version of its F-18 Super Hornet fighter jet which Boeing suggests would cost $1.7-billion less for a fleet of 65 jets than the Lockheed Martin F-35 stealth fighter project that the federal government has temporarily put on hold.

Like the F-35, the Advanced Super Hornet, a more powerful version of Canada’s aging fleet of Boeing CF-18 Hornet fighter jets, is still in development stages. But unlike the F-35, the new Boeing plane builds on an existing version of Boeing’s Super Hornet fighter jet, itself a generation after the Hornet jets Canada acquired in the 1980s.

But the latest Boeing cost entry into an options analysis which the government is conducting in the wake of Auditor General Michael Ferguson’s scathing report on the F-35 project last year is likely to fuel calls from the House of Commons opposition parties and critics outside Parliament for a full-blown competition to find a replacement for the CF-18s.

Mary Ann Brett, Boeing’s senior of manager of international communications, told The Hill Times the company included data on its new fighter, which underwent successful flights this summer, in final response the aerospace giant sent in July to the National Fighter Procurement Secretariat as part of a review of four fighter jets, including Lockheed Martin’s F-35.

“We have responded to all three questionnaires and had some follow-up questions, which have now been answered,” Ms. Brett said in an email response to questions on Wednesday.

“Some basic cost and capability information on the Advanced Super Hornet was included in our response to the [Industry Engagement Requests] in view of Canada’s interest in continued capability growth,” Ms. Brett said.

Asked how much the Advanced Super Hornet would cost, Ms. Brett noted the current Super Hornet Boeing has sold to the U.S. Navy for about $52-million per aircraft, while the advanced version would add “6-million to $10-million per aircraft, depending on the options selected.”

Even at $62-million per plane, the cost of a fleet would be $1.7-billion less than the forecast $6.2-billion fly-away cost for 65 planes from Lockheed Martin.

Ms. Brett pointed out that the Advanced Super Hornet is a prototype undergoing flight tests, while only the Super Hornet, which would cost Canada roughly $2.3-billion less than a fleet of 65 F-35s, currently forecast to cost about $88-million per plane during the time period Canada would buy them. Inflation and currency exchange fluctuations could add another $7-million to the cost of each F-35, said a recent independent review of National Defence cost forecasts by the accounting firm Raymond Chabot Grant Thornton.

The other two fighter jet makers still taking part in the market review of options to the F-35s are Dassault Aviation of France and EADS Eurofighter. The Saab Group of Sweden dropped out of the review last spring.

With Boeing ramping up its profile in the bidding to sell both Canada and the U.S. F-35 replacements for aging fighter fleets, Thornley Fallis, the Ottawa consulting firm that represents Lockeed Martin for public relations activities in Canada, on Thursday circulated a Reuters report quoting a top Pentagon official saying the U.S. Navy is unlikely to change its planned $392-billion acquisition of an F-35 fleet “in any fundamental way.”

Reuters reported that Frank Kendall, undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, told a Reuters Aerospace and Defense Summit the F-35 remains the U.S. military’s “highest priority conventional warfare program.”

tnaumetz@hilltimes.com

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