Canadian Air Force expected competition for next fighter

Canada's CF-18

Air force officers working on the purchase of Canada’s new fighter planes expected there would a competition this year for the multibillion-dollar deal, according to Defence Department documents.

The plan written by officers for the Next Generation Fighter Capability project called for a “competitive process” for both the aircraft and the long-term maintenance contract, according to the project outline developed in the summer of 2009.

Instead, the Conservative government decided to proceed without a competition and select the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter built by U.S. aerospace firm Lockheed Martin.

The high price-tag of the proposed purchase of the 65 stealth fighters and the lack of competition has become the focus of criticism by opposition MPs and others.

“It is very clear that this was an open, transparent process,” Defence Minister Peter MacKay told a Commons committee on Wednesday.

Opposition MPs, however, have pointed out that competition was for the aircraft that met the needs of the U.S. military. They note that Canada is a sovereign nation and should select a plane based on its needs, not what the U.S. deems is relevant in an aircraft.

Saab had wanted to offer Canada the Gripen next-generation fighter.

U.S. aerospace firm Boeing was prepared to offer the F-18 Super Hornet, an advanced version of the aircraft that Canada already operates.

BAE, a British firm also involved in the F-35 project, said it would offer Canada its Typhoon fighter aircraft if there was a competition.

MacKay’s spokesman Jay Paxton said Sunday that at last week’s defence committee, the air force leadership “was incredibly supportive of the F-35 procurement and this government’s efforts to build the Canadian Forces.”

He noted that air force commander Lt.-Gen. André Deschamps told the Commons that the F-35 is the best value for taxpayers and will keep Canada at the forefront of fight operations.

Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff, concerned that no competition was held to select the fighter plane, has vowed to review the deal if his party forms the next government. He has also questioned whether the purchase is needed at a time when the country’s deficit has climbed to $50 billion.

The deal, if it goes through, would be the most expensive military equipment procurement in Canadian history.

The government earmarked $2.6 billion to upgrade the CF-18s and the last modernized aircraft was just delivered in March. The CF-18 fighters can continue flying until 2018-2020, according to the air force.


OTTAWA CITIZEN

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