Feds mum on next step in fighter jet competition

OTTAWA — Federal procurement officials won’t say when Canada will take the next step in the years-long process of selecting a new fighter jet.

The federal government announced in December that it had narrowed its search for a replacement of the military’s aging CF-18s to Lockheed Martin’s F-35 and the Swedish Saab Gripen.

The government said at that time a decision would be made in short order on whether the government would engage in another round of negotiations with the two companies, or select a winner outright.

Yet nearly four months later, no announcement has been forthcoming, leading to concerns about even further delays in replacing Canada’s CF-18s at a time when Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has underscored the importance of modern military capabilities.

Public Services and Procurement Canada assistant deputy minister Simon Page said Tuesday the process is “very active, very live” as he was grilled by a parliamentary committee over the lack of a decision.

Yet while Page and other federal officials expressed optimism that a contract with the winning bidder will be signed by the end of the year, they declined to provide any details on the reasons for the delay or when a decision on the next step could come.

“Answering the question would have us lean one way over the other,” Page told members of the House of Commons government operations committee. “And I just don’t want to answer that at this time, to protect the integrity of the process.”

It also wasn’t immediately clear who will ultimately decide whether to move ahead with another round of negotiations with Lockheed Martin and Saab, or the selection of a final winner.

Conservative committee member Kelly McCauley expressed concern about the lack of clarity around what is happening with the fighter procurement, particularly given the numerous delays that have dragged the search for a new fighter out over a decade.

The federal government is planning to buy 88 new fighter jets at an estimated cost of up to $19 billion, with delivery of the first plane expected no earlier than 2025. The final aircraft was supposed to be delivered in 2032, but that has since moved to 2033.

The Boeing Super Hornet was also in the running, but was kicked out of the competition in December.

The successful selection of a new fighter jet this year would mark the culmination of more than a decade of stop-start efforts marked by mismanagement and political controversy under two successive federal governments.