Boeing’s Super Hornet officially out of fighter jet competition

OTTAWA —The federal government has confirmed Boeing’s Super Hornet fighter jet is out of the running to replace Canada’s CF-18s.

The official announcement from Public Services and Procurement Canada comes nearly a week after The Canadian Press first reported that Boeing had been told its bid for the $19-billion fighter jet contract did not meet Canada’s requirements.

The government refused to comment publicly at that time, including on whether the US aerospace giant was out of the competition.

But the department in a statement on Wednesday confirmed Lockheed Martin’s F-35 stealth fighter and the Swedish Saab Gripen are the only two fighters still in contention.

The statement did not say why Boeing’s offer did not make the cut.

Bidders had been required to show their fighter jet was able to meet the military’s requirements for missions at home and abroad, and that winning the contract would result in substantial economic benefits to Canada.

News that one of the two US companies competing for the contract failed to meet one or more of the requirements is the latest twist in what has already been a long and often unpredictable road toward replacing Canada’s CF-18s.

While Public Services and Procurement Canada says it will finalize the next steps in the competition in the coming weeks, it insists it is still hoping to award a contract in time for the first new fighter jet to arrive by 2025.

Many observers had seen the Super Hornet and F-35 as the only real competition because of Canada’s close relationship with the United States, which includes using fighter jets together to defend North American aerospace on a daily basis.

Those perceptions were only amplified after two other European companies dropped out of the competition before it even started, complaining the government’s requirements had stacked the deck in favour of their US rivals.

Sweden is not a member of NATO or the joint Canadian-American defence command known as Norad, which is responsible for protecting the continent from foreign threats. That had prompted questions about the Gripen’s compatibility with U.S. aircraft.

There have been long-standing concerns in some corners that the entire competition has been set up from the beginning to select the F-35, which is being purchased by many of Canada’s closest allies.

Canada first joined the US and other allies as a partner in developing the F-35 in 1997 and has since paid US$613 million to stay at the table. Partners get a discount when purchasing the jets and compete for billions of dollars in contracts associated with building and maintaining them.

Stephen Harper’s Conservative government then committed to buying 65 F-35s without a competition in 2010, before concerns about the stealth fighter’s cost and capabilities forced it back to the drawing board.

The Liberals promised in 2015 not to buy the F-35, but to instead launch an open competition to replace the CF-18s. They later planned to buy 18 Super Hornets without a competition as an “interim” measure to ensure Canada had enough aircraft until permanent replacements could be purchased.

Some at the time questioned that plan, suggesting the Liberals were trying to find a way to lock Canada into the Super Hornet without opening itself up to a legal challenge from Lockheed Martin or any other jet makers.

But the government cancelled the plan after Boeing launched a trade dispute with Montreal aerospace firm Bombardier over the latter’s C-Series planes. It later introduced a penalty on firms seeking a federal contract who have launched a trade dispute with Canada.

Meanwhile, the government has been forced to invest hundreds of millions of additional dollars into the CF-18 fleet to keep it flying until a replacement can be delivered. The government has said it plans to name a winner in the coming months, with the first plane delivered in 2025.

The last plane isn’t scheduled to arrive until 2032, at which point the CF-18s will have been around for 50 years.