The federal government’s plan to buy new fighter jets puts greater emphasis on the aircraft’s ability to conduct “strategic attacks” in foreign countries than their capacity to defend Canada and North America from enemy incursions, government documents show.
The importance awarded to the new aircraft’s offensive and first-strike capabilities abroad, rather than their defensive capabilities in places such as the Arctic, is causing concerns among some companies in the running for the $19-billion contract to replace Canada’s CF-18s, industry sources said.
In particular, some manufacturers have told the government they are worried the process will end up favouring the Lockheed-Martin F-35 at the expense of bids from the Boeing Super Hornet, Saab’s Gripen and the Eurofighter Typhoon, which is built by a consortium led by Airbus. The industry sources who spoke about the matter were granted anonymity because federal rules prevent them from speaking publicly.
Federal officials said they are aware of the concerns from various aircraft manufacturers and that government experts are reviewing the evaluation grid. The government is planning to launch the competition for new fighter jets by the end of July.
“We are continuing to have discussions with the companies,” said Pat Finn, the assistant deputy minister in charge of procurement at National Defence.
He added that 80 per cent of the technical requirements are related to NORAD and NATO operations, while the rest are needed to be able to respond to government missions in hot spots around the world. “We’re in a good spot for a competition,” he said.
Canada’s defence policy, which was released in 2017, made it clear that the priority for the new fighter jets would be defending the country’s territory.
“The fighter aircraft fleet is a critical Canadian Armed Forces capability necessary to enforce Canada’s sovereignty, enable continental security, and contribute to international peace and stability,” the policy said.
David Perry, a military analyst at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, said the acquisition process to this point gives the impression that foreign missions are more important than domestic ones.
“At the high level, the optics of the way it is presented aren’t very good at all,” he said.
The federal government’s assessment grid for the new fighter jets is based on an evaluation of all requirements worth a total of 100 points, with 60 points going to technical capabilities, 20 points to the acquisition and sustainment costs, and 20 points to the package of industrial benefits. The government has shared its draft evaluation grid with potential bidders, a copy of which was provided to The Globe and Mail.
Of the 60 points going to technical requirements, 31.5 points are based on the aircraft’s performance on six potential missions: conducting NORAD operations, intercepting a foreign aircraft carrying a cruise missile, carrying missions against maritime targets, detecting and attacking foreign aircraft such as enemy fighter jets, providing “close air support” in an attack against targets on foreign soil and participating in a “strategic attack” against a foreign country.
The first two missions, which are seen to be domestic in nature, are worth a total of 3.5 points. By contrast, the mission worth the most points (12 out of 31.5, or nearly 40 per cent of the points in this category) is the one based on an aircraft’s ability to conduct a first-strike “strategic attack” in a foreign country, which is known to be a forte of the F-35.
The evaluation grid has led some companies to complain to the government that the process favoured the F-35 at the expense of their aircraft, industry and government sources said.
Following complaints from the American government, the federal government changed last month the way it will evaluate the 20 points related to industrial benefits. Under a new process, Ottawa will no longer force all bidders to commit 100 per cent of the value of the aircraft’s acquisition and sustainment on spending in Canada. Instead, manufacturers will lose points in the scoring system if they do not make this commitment, but they will still be allowed to remain in the competition
Before the changes were made, the F-35 could have been automatically disqualified because the international consortium that builds the aircraft doesn’t allow for the provision of traditional industrial benefits.
Of the 20 points that are attributed to the cost of the new aircraft, 10 are determined based on the acquisition costs and 10 are determined based on the sustainment of the aircraft after their purchase.