Ottawa is back on the market for new fighter planes, with at least five jets vying for the military’s attention. The F-35 remains in the mix, but the government will also look at other manufacturers in its search for a replacement for Canada’s fleet of CF-18s. The manufacturers are all salivating at the multibillion-dollar contract, with each aircraft having unique selling points – and drawbacks. In addition to the varying cost of the planes, here is what they each offer:
F-35: Still in development, the Lockheed-Martin F-35 Lightning II promises to be the most technologically advanced of all competitors. While others fighters have state-of-the-art technologies to evade radars, the F-35 is the only one that comes with a stealth exterior shell, making it the hardest of them all to detect. But the price tag remains in flux, including maintenance, as the plane is still not in military operation. There are also many technological hurdles to clear before anyone can confidently predict that the $1-trillion program will be a success. The jet is seen as being well suited for Canada’s overseas missions, but it has only one engine, which raises questions about its suitability for missions over the Canadian North.
Super Hornet: The Boeing F-18 Super Hornet is seen as the leading contender if the government abandons its plans to buy the F-35 and opts for another aircraft. In use by the U.S. Navy and the Australian military, the twin-engine fighter jet does not include full stealth capabilities, but can be operated jointly in missions with the U.S. military. The aircraft is the one that most resembles Canada’s current fleet of CF-18s, which would make for an easier transition to the new platform. The Super Hornet has been in operation for a decade, which means it is less advanced than the F-35, but the experience also offers guarantees about its performance and its acquisition and maintenance cost.
Typhoon: The Eurofighter Typhoon, produced by a consortium of three aerospace giants in Europe, is in use in Italy, Germany, the United Kingdom and Saudi Arabia, among other militaries. Known as being effective in dogfights, the twin-engine fighter has the fastest maximum speed of all five jets and more range than its two U.S.-built rivals. Still, internal records show that in 2010, the Canadian government had deemed that it was also more expensive than the F-35 and the F-18 to acquire.
Rafale: The Dassault Rafale was at the heart of the recent allied bombing campaign in Libya, where it showcased its value in the type of overseas operation that is increasingly favoured by the Canadian government. The fighter jet was created after the French military got out of the Eurofighter consortium. The company has promised to assemble the jets in Canada if it wins the contract, which could create pressure on other firms to boost their domestic spinoffs if the contract goes to tenders.
Gripen: The Saab Gripen is a lightweight, single-engine plane, and the only aircraft that is not produced by a NATO country. It is older than some of its competitors, but also cheaper to purchase and operate, with proven efficiency in northern environments.