Canada Preparing to Replace its CF-18 Hornets
Reuters says that the government’s review recommended what the government has always wanted to do: buy the F-35A. Now what?
July 12/16: A total of five defense manufacturers have expressed an interest in supplying the replacement to Canada’s CF-18 fighters. Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Eurofighter and Saab all took part in a conference call with Canadian officials last week, with Dassault planning to meet and discuss the matter at the Farnborough International Airshow this week. Lockheed, whose F-35 was dropped by the Canadian government, welcomed the meetings as a first step towards a new competition.
Canada’s 138 “CF-18s” were delivered between 1982-1988, but accidents and retirements have reduced the fleet to about 103, with only 79 upgraded F/A-18 AM/BM Hornets still operational. The CF-18s are expected to be phased out between 2017 – 2023. Maintenance and upgrades will remain necessary until then, and possibly beyond.
Canada has been an active Tier 3 partner in the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program, participating in both the Concept Demonstration Phase ($10 million) and the System Development and Demonstration Phase ($150 million). This USD $160 million has included funding from both the Department of National Defence, and from Technology Partnerships Canada (TPC). In the Production, Sustainment and Follow-on Development Phase of the F-35 program, it is estimated that Canada’s contribution will exceed C$ 550 million (about the same in USD) over 44 years. As of September 2011, the government had disbursed about C$ 335 million toward participation in the JSF Program, and related support to Canadian industry.
Now, 65 new CF-35As are Canada’s official choice to replace its Hornets – and estimates of the cost range from $17 billion to $45.8 billion. This article covers efforts to keep existing CF-18s fit for service, as well as Canada’s replacement fighter buy. As timelines continue to slip, these 2 programs have become more interdependent – and the F-35’s selection less certain.
Canada and the F-35
Timelines: The F-35’s, and Canada’s
Here’s the timeline as it has unfolded so far, along with Canada’s plans out to 2050. The timeline will change, but it’s unlikely to move F-35 fielding up to an earlier date. That’s a problem, because the CF-18s have a limited number of hours for safe flight, and they will reach those limits soon. Any delays to the F-35s will either raise costs again by forcing a major refurbishment of Canada’s CF-18s, or leave Canada with serious gaps in its fighter fleet.
F-35: Canadian Industrial Partners
The F-35 has been designed on 3 levels: operational, industrial, and political. The tiered partnership model created initial commitments by member governments, and a sub-contracting model that spread industrial benefits among committed partners was designed to create constituencies that would lobby for the F-35’s selection and production.
That approach has generally worked. It isn’t a coincidence that these industrial benefits have been the main defense used by Canadian governments whenever the F-35 purchase has been questioned, even though any other winner would also have to commit to a similar sort of arrangement. Existing recipients of public money will always fight harder, because the beneficiaries of any switch are only potential winners, who haven’t made big commitments that would be painful to undo. This political engineering approach saved the Dutch F-35 buy in the face of determined political opposition, even though the plane’s cost is forcing them to cut their planned fighter fleet by almost 2/3. Canada seems headed for a similar fate, and their industrial participants include:
According to the government’s Industry Canada, contracts as of summer 2013 totaled C$ 503 million, while total future contracts are estimated at C$ 9.429 billion: C$ 8.261 billion if existing contracts are extended over the scheduled number of fighters, plus another C$ 1.168 billion in identified production & service opportunities.
Given the sharp order cuts we’re seeing in even Tier 2 partners like Britain and the Netherlands, and the USA’s long-term fiscal situation, Lockheed Martin might be lucky to produce half of the expected number of F-35s. Lockheed Martin would argue that one can only publish official figures using official estimates, and they’d have a point, but an honest debate can’t be blind to reality. This is a dilemma for all F-35 partners, and it needs to be kept in mind when reading estimates of the program’s long-term industrial value.
A Word on Stealth
The Stealthy Mosquito
Military discussion in Canada has been almost non-existent, beyond hand-waving and the grossest generalizations. The strategic requirements for new fighters, and whether the choices available can do those jobs at acceptable cost, doesn’t much concern Canada’s governing class. Such references as have been made generally revolve around the need for stealth, without explaining the concept.
The thing to remember is that stealth isn’t invisibility, just a shorter detection distance. To use a very simplified and very Canadian analogy, a mosquito will have to be a lot closer to you before you’ll see it, compared to a sparrow. Hence all those “surprise” bites, as they exploit the gaps in your perception and get in close enough to strike. They aren’t invisible, though you might swear otherwise at times. On the other hand, if you use other parts of the spectrum by employing your ears, even a tiny mosquito can be detected at uncomfortably long distances in a quiet room.
That’s just the beginning of your problem, of course. Awareness must be followed by pinpointing and tracking its location, and then it must come within your killing range.
It’s basically the same sequence for enemy systems. A fighter can survive by defeating any one link in the detection – tracking – reach – kill chain. Stealth complicates all 3 areas, shortening detection ranges, making tracking more difficult, and frustrating or weakening final stage radar guided missile locks.
Other manufacturers are correct when they respond that modern jets without the stealth marketing have much better radar cross sections that Canada’s existing CF-18s. Even so, the CF-35’s stealth will be a step beyond other fighters on offer to Canada, albeit a step below the USAF’s F-22A Raptors and F-35s. The thing is, modern fighters, missiles, and radars have been making their own parallel improvements over the last decade. To the point where even the F-35’s ability to prevail against high-end enemy air defense systems, and against fighters fielded after 2030, is a matter of controversy.
Design Choices: America vs. Europe
The Americans had better hope that stealth continues to work in practice. They’ve placed their entire future fighter bet on stealth, and are paying the accompanying financial and operational costs.
The Europeans, in contrast, looked askance at the added construction and maintenance costs of stealth, and at the huge expense of aerodynamic changes once a stealth design is set. They opted instead for radar cross-section reduction that stopped short of full stealth, plus high kinematic performance. Advanced electronic warfare and defensive systems integrated into the planes, non-standard sensors like Infra-Red Search & Track, and long-reach weapons like the Meteor air-to-air missile and stealthy cruise missiles, would all improve protection in other ways.
Who is right?
The answer to this question is very consequential to Canada, but it’s hard to say at this point, because the respective approaches haven’t been fully tested against top-end enemy systems. American stealth worked very well against Iraq, twice. Modern European fighters were more than sufficient over Libya in 2011, however; and the stealthless Israelis sliced through dense Syrian air defenses in 2007, using planning, jammming, and well-chosen weapons to destroy a nuclear reactor.
If stealth remains fully or mostly relevant, even as a matter of faith rather than proof, Europe’s high-end jets will be unable to compete with American stealth fighters. Worse, the F-35’s full-rate production costs beyond 2020 would make it lethal in export competitions.
On the other hand, if jamming keeps pace, or if stealth’s advantages can be beaten or watered down, the European approach can create cheaper planes with better aerodynamic performance.
Changing the Game?
Right now, modern ground radars are lengthening the ranges at which stealth aircraft can be detected, and AESA fighter radars are getting better. Those trends will continue, but neither will invalidate stealth on its own. With that said, there are at least 2 key technologies that could significantly change stealth design’s cost:benefit ratio.
Infrared Search & Track (IRST) systems on planes like the Eurofighter and Rafale, on the F-35 itself, and on most Russian-designed fighters, already offers a potential alternative to radar in aerial engagements. The B-2 picture above was taken by a Eurofighter’s PIRATE IRST system, and used in a presentation to the Norwegian government. The mechanics of fuel circulation in the F-35 are intended to make heat-based lock-ons harder to achieve, and there are pilot-activated additives that can even frustrate locks from tailpipe exhaust, but processors will continue to improve, and so will infrared detection arrays. IRST will remain a potent and improving solution for detection and location, and the mere friction of an airplane cutting through the atmosphere at high speed is very hard to hide completely.
The greatest long-term threat to stealth is probably a combination of “passive” radars that collect input from wider slices of the spectrum. They’d need to be paired with ever-expanding processing power that can separate anomalies from the clutter by collating multiple input types, and with networked analysis that collates multiple sensor systems. Early research and tests have begun in this area, courtesy of firms like Saab and EADS.
Does Canada Have a Plan B?
At present, it does not. One could even say that it took until 2013 for the government to offer a Plan A.
There’s an argument that Canada has no strategic need for a fighter in the F-35’s class, and might be better off spending the same amount of money on the same number of cheaper 4+ generation fighters, plus assets like MQ-9 UAVs that would deploy abroad with its troops, maritime patrol aircraft to improve surveillance, etc. To date, however, Canada’s military, governments, and media have all diligently avoided a strategic discussion that could separate, evaluate, and prioritize spending options. Instead, the debate has revolved around economic concerns, and the military’s wants.
A rigid and secretive procurement system has only exacerbated these tendencies. In the wake of the 20+ year rolling fiasco of its Maritime Helicopter Program competition, multi-billion dollar, single-source buys have characterized almost all Canadian defense procurements over the last 5-7 years. Canada’s choice of the F-35 has been no different, and the only real debate has taken place in the realm of federal elected politics. Opposition critics have cited significant cost uncertainties for the F-35, the shift toward UAVs, and the availability of cheaper aircraft on the global market as reasons to avoid a sole-source purchase. In its place, they’ve alternated between favoring an open fighter competition with public criteria, and making noises about avoiding a fighter buy altogether.
A 2011 election seemed likely to decide the issue, and the F-35 became a campaign topic. The results were indeed decisive, as the governing Conservative Party finally won its long-sought majority.
That result left the F-35 with a number of elements in its favor.
One is the structure of the Canadian Parliamentary system, in which a majority government has no meaningful checks and balances. If the current majority Conservative Party government wants a plane, it can force the sale through, easily. The Conservatives in particular will bear little political cost for doing so, because they have become the only party in the country with serious security credentials. The national security constituency largely lives within that party, and will be happy that something is being done after decades of neglect. The rest of the population isn’t overly interested. The Liberal Party found this out to their sorrow when they tried to make the F-35 an election issue in 2011, and watched the attempt fizzle. They had a solid case, but the messenger had no credibility with people who were interested in the issue.
Another point in the F-35’s favor is its industrial program. It’s working as intended, by creating industrial constituencies with a strong interest in keeping the purchase. The power of that constituency is partly offset by the fact that Boeing, Canada’s largest aerospace player, is on the other side of the dispute. But only partly. Organizations billing actual dollars will always fight harder that those who might benefit at some future date. Which is why the F-35’s industrial benefits are the current focus of the government’s F-35 defense.
A third point in the Lightning’s favor is the commitment of senior DND members, who have gone public with a very absolute commitment. Never mind the fact that this commitment seems to mask some shoddy work underneath. In that circumstance, there’s little alternative to a no-compromise stonewall defense, until and unless senior leadership at DND changes.
Barring a reversal in the next elections, therefore, only a large external shock can change Canada’s commitment to the F-35A. The F-35 program is busy providing that, as costs continue to rise, and major partner countries like the USA, Britain and Italy move to delay or cut their buys. Those moves will keep the plane at lower rates of production for a longer period of time, which makes each plane more expensive.
Unfortunately, Canada wants to begin replacing its CF-18s by 2017 – 2018. Which means that it needs to place an initial order by 2014 – 2015. The net effect is a fighter whose purchase costs are uncertain, but are clearly set to stay very high in the near term. Worse, at the time of purchase, the operating and maintenance outlays that comprise 2/3 of total lifecycle costs will be extremely vague.
The Harper government’s response has been to insist that the procurement budget is C$ 9 billion, period, and higher prices will just mean fewer planes bought. At some point, however, a low enough number of planes bought makes it impossible for them to cover their assigned missions. Canada’s air force is already close to that margin in asking for just 65 aircraft, in order to cover the 2nd largest country in the world and participate in international missions.
Politically, a “wait and see” strategy makes a lot of sense under these circumstances. Which is exactly what we’re seeing. Statements by ministers like Julian Fantino telegraphed that approach, without changing Canada’s underlying commitment. Perhaps some sort of “group buy” approach by the partners will bring purchase costs down, or program news may improve. If so, the purchase goes forward easily.
If the math continues to look grim, on the other hand, the difficult decisions can always be made later. The government’s shift of program leadership to the Public Works ministry, following a scathing 2012 auditor’s report, makes backtracking easier. The 1st real indication of cracks in the facade didn’t come until November 2012, when the government backed away from DND’s original tailored-for-F-35 fighter requirements. Would it matter?
What If… Potential Competitors
The F-35 offers Canada the best stealth, the most advanced array of on-board sensors, and the best “user interface” for presenting all that information to its pilots. Strategy has been absent from all Canadian discussions, so if Canada is forced away from its commitment to the F-35, it’s going to be a decision driven by costs. Handicapping for any prospective replacement needs to reflect that.
The strongest competitor would be Boeing, with its twin-engine F/A-18E/F Super Hornet family. Its F-15E Strike Eagle family is arguably a far better fit for Canada’s military needs, but the Super Hornet is significantly cheaper at about USD$ 60 million flyaway cost, and offers perceived continuity with the existing CF-18 fleet. A Super Hornet buy also offers long-term commonality with the US Navy, ensuring that upgrades and improvements will be financed outside of Canada.
Australia also flies the Super Hornet, and a 3rd option would be for Canada to take a leaf from their playbook, buying a mix of Super Hornets and F-35As. Australia is about to take the next step in their approach, and fit out 12 RAAF Super Hornets as EA-18G Growler electronic attack aircraft. That capability is unique to the Super Hornet platform, and it will always be in demand among international coalition partners. Fortunately, Canada is one of just 3-4 countries that could get EA-18G export clearance from the USA.
Canada’s large and remote territories have traditionally pushed their air force toward twin-engine fighters, and the Europeans offer a pair of advanced options. Of the two, EADS/BAE’s Eurofighter Typhoon has far better odds, because it’s compatible with the American weapons that Canada’s air force currently stockpiles, and is used by a number of NATO countries who will help to modernize it over time. The cockpit’s sensor fusion and voice commands got high marks from Canadian evaluators, and Libyan operations demonstrated their ability to Mach 1.2 supercruise at 40,000 feet with air-to-air weapons mounted. On the industrial front, Eurofighter’s connections with firms like Airbus and Thales offer it a good starting point to fulfill industrial offset requirements.
The Eurofighter’s flip side includes a cost that’s at or above current totals for the F-35A. It also has a very limited set of integrated weapons, with significant gaps in key areas like suppression of enemy air defenses and naval attack. Fortunately for Eurofighter, Canada’s arsenal is pretty basic, but the cost issue won’t go away as easily. Based on sales to date, Eurofighter costs are comfortably above USD$ 100 million. That will make it difficult for them to position themselves as a better deal than Canada’s existing F-35 commitment.
Dassault’s Rafale is a capable, combat-proven multi-role plane, but it comes with a number of problems from Canada’s point of view. Industrial presence and offsets may prove to be a challenge for Dassault, and the plane has no confirmed export sales yet, despite promising signals from India and the Middle East. Unless that promise turns into orders by the time Canada needs to make a decision, long-term modernization costs must also be a serious concern for the Rafale.
Then, there’s the question of absolute purchase cost. The Rafale was judged to be slightly cheaper than the Eurofighter by India’s evaluators, but it’s still a high-end fighter in the $100 million range. Worse, weapon incompatibilities mean that Canada would need either new stocks of missiles, or an expensive integration program. The combined purchase cost would be unlikely to beat the Eurofighter, let alone the F-35.
Saab’s JAS-39 Gripen could certainly beat the F-35 on price. It’s compatible with Canada’s existing weapons, has the requisite cold-weather pedigree, can be bought for around $60 million, and is built for very low maintenance costs compared to competitors like Eurofighter. It’s a single-engine fighter, like the F-35, but offsets that slightly with an exceptional reliability record in service. Saab’s undeveloped industrial presence in Canada will be a challenge, but using the same GE F414 engine as the Super Hornet helps, and their international record for industrial offset programs is good. The plane is fully NATO-compatible, and earlier model JAS-39C/D Gripens already serve with NATO countries Hungary and the Czech Republic.
The Gripen’s problem is that its JAS-39E/F models won’t be available in numbers until 2023 or so, which is too late for Canada. The Swiss and Brazilians are solving a similar problem by getting leased JAS-39C/D aircraft on very attractive terms, until their more advanced JAS-39Es arrive. Sweden has cut its own active fleet size quite sharply, so there may be enough Gripens in storage to meet Canada’s needs. If not, a life extension program similar to the US Navy’s Hornet SLEP plans could keep 65 CF-18s flying for another 5 years, at a cost of about $1 billion. If the F-35’s schedule continues to slip, that may be necessary anyway.
There are reports that Saab pulled out of the competition in June 2013. Saab’s issue, if it gets an opening, is how to compete with a Super Hornet option whose production volume gives it a similar price, plus twin engines, long-term modernization assurance, local allied and expeditionary commonality, and lobbying from Canada’s biggest aerospace firm?
Contracts and Key Events
2014 – 2016
July 12/16: A total of five defense manufacturers have expressed an interest in supplying the replacement to Canada’s CF-18 fighters. Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Eurofighter and Saab all took part in a conference call with Canadian officials last week, with Dassault planning to meet and discuss the matter at the Farnborough International Airshow this week. Lockheed, whose F-35 was dropped by the Canadian government, welcomed the meetings as a first step towards a new competition.
July 8/16: Canadian Defense Minister Harjit Sajjan has called for a return to the drawing board on Canada’s CF-18 replacement by reaching out to fighter manufacturers for consultations this summer. The news comes amid reports that Canada was going to purchase Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornets as a stop gap (or kicking the can down the road) without the new competition promised by the Liberals during the election campaign. However Sajjan refused to commit to a new competition or independent oversight raising concerns that the bold promises made to ditch the F-35 is causing a capability crisis.
May 31/16: A new sense of urgency has been injected into Canada’s CF-18 fighter replacement by Defense Minister Harjit Sajjan, saying that the issue “needs to be dealt with quickly.” Speaking at the CANSEC defence and military trade show in Ottawa last week, Sajjan didn’t forget to remind reporters that the issue was inherited from the previous government while seemingly forgetting that it was the current Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau’s promise to ditch its participation in F-35 procurement in favor of a more affordable aircraft.
June 5/14: Decision, under wraps. Reuters reports from 3 unnamed sources that Canada’s NFPS report recommended sole-sourcing the F-35, but adds that the Conservative Party government is waiting until Parliament is dismissed for the summer before announcing the decision. That’s one way to try and avoid criticism.
The next question becomes how quickly the government signs a contract. If the government buys the jets before the 2015 elections after all (q.v. April 6/14), the F-35 will become an election issue again, and this time it could hurt the Conservatives. That’s Lockheed Martin’s best situation, because high cancellation costs would likely force the next government to keep the contract in place. If the Conservative Party government doesn’t sign a contract, on the other hand, the election issue loses its bite, but the F-35 buy would be at very grave risk if the Liberal and/or NDP parties win. Sources: Reuters, “Exclusive: Canadian review will recommend buying Lockheed F-35 fighter jet – sources”.
April 13/14: NFPS done. The Harper government has accepted the “options analysis” report from its National Fighter Procurement Secretariat (NFPS) panel, after more than 18 months. As noted earlier (q.v. April 6/14), Canada won’t be able to order F-35s until 2015, and probably won’t do so until after the 2015 elections, if they place any orders at all. Sources: Postmedia News, “F-35 decision back in government’s court as air force completes major study”.
April 11/14: Stealth risks. The December 2012 report concerning Canada’s F-35 buy had a lot of cuts, including passages that highlighted ongoing problems with the program.
“But the Citizen has obtained more than a dozen earlier drafts of the report showing defence officials had originally laid out many of the issues surrounding the F-35’s development, and their potential impact on Canada [only to have them removed later].”
Issues that were removed from the Canadian report included fuel consumption that’s 26% higher than the CF-18s, problems with the Helmet-Mounted Display that have been cited in multiple US GAO and US DOT&E publications, and serious software delays involving the fighter’s 8+ million lines of code. That last item was the subject of a March 2014 report from the US GAO. Canada.com, “Final report on F-35 dropped references to fuel, IT problems”.
April 7/14: CF-18 Engines. Magellan Aerospace has been responsible for F404 engine maintenance & repairs for over 30 years, and that isn’t changing. Their latest contract is a C$ 55 million, 1-year award with an option for an additional year. Sources: Magellan Aerospace, “Magellan Aerospace Awarded Engine Maintenance Contract for CF-188 F404”.
April 6/14: Stall. Canada’s “buy profile” for the F-35 has been moved from 2017 to 2018, which means there won’t be a decision before the 2015 elections. That’s a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it gives the Conservative Party plausible deniability to say that it hasn’t made any decisions, which will keep the F-35 from becoming an issue again. On the other hand, the process itself has so alienated the other parties that unless the Conservatives win a majority, the F-35 buy will probably be canceled. Sources: Defense News, “Canada: No F-35 Buys Before 2018”.
Jan 22/14: Rafale. Dassault SVP of NATO affairs Yves Robins is quoted as saying that they’re offering Canada unrestricted transfers of technology if it picks the Rafale, including software source codes for servicing the planes. That’s something Canada won’t get with the F-35, and it’s being touted as a long-term cost savings that will let Canadian firms do more of the required maintenance. They’re also pushing the government to declare a competition.
CBC goes on to show that they don’t really grasp the issues, asking about the Rafale’s ability to operate alongside the USAF. France replies that this worked over Libya, but that isn’t the real question. The question is whether Canada could use its American weapons with the Rafale, without having to buy new weapons or conduct expensive integration and testing programs. In most cases, the answer is no. Sources: CBC News, “Dassault Aviation ramps up CF-18 replacement pitch”.
Jan 15/14: DND’s former assistant deputy minister for procurement, Alan Williams, explains why he thinks the entire review is a sham. The government hasn’t released its requirements for the fighter buy, and hasn’t solicited the full cost and performance data that would be required for an informed comparison. Williams is probably correct in his conclusion, but full price data would only come about as a result of an RFP – which is to say, after a competition is declared. Sources: Embassy magazine, “Feds haven’t changed perspective on F-35: Williams”.
Jan 2/14: Paperwork in. According to documents posted on a federal website on Thursday, the Canadian Forces have already prepared draft reports to the “National Fighter Procurement secretariat” on the price, the technical capabilities and the strategic advantages of the 4 fighter jets considered (F-35A, Eurofighter, Rafale, Super Hornets). Actually, the price isn’t included, except as a rough order of magnitude. That information wasn’t forthcoming from all manufacturers, and even Boeing would likely be quoting an Advanced Super Hornet model that isn’t being bought under its current multi-year Navy contract. A competition would be necessary in order to really know, and the key question from the start has been whether the Conservative government has ever had any genuine interest in a competition.
The RCAF is also reportedly finishing up its “Integrated Mission Risk Assessment,” though the quality of their work has been less than stellar in the past. Source: The Globe and Mail, “Military’s fighter-jet reports to put ball in Ottawa’s court on F-35s”.
Dec 10/13: Industrial. The federal government’s Industry Canada department releases a report detailing Canadian contracts to date from the F-35 program, explaining their calculation approach, and estimating future opportunities.
Contracts to date as of summer 2013 amount to C$ 503 million, while total future contracts are estimated at C$ 9.429 billion: 8.261 billion if existing contracts are extended over the scheduled number of fighters (a very dubious proposition, based on order cuts to date), plus another 1.168 billion in identified production & service opportunities. Sources: Canada IC, “Canadian Industrial Participation in the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Program”.
Nov 7/13: Sub-contractors. One modification shared by Canada and Norway’s F-35As will be drag chutes, which help with landings on short and/or ice-covered runways. Airborner Systems, “Airborne Systems Canada Supports Development of F-35 Drag Chute Program”:
“Airborne Systems is currently providing technical assistance to Lockheed Martin during the F-35 drag chute development. Their experience and expertise have contributed to the drag chute concept development which has led to the baseline design currently being finalized for the F-35A. Airborne Systems plans to continue supporting the drag chute development, flight test, certification and eventual production for the F-35 fleet.”
June 4/13: This headline from the [Parliament] Hill Times sums it all up, which is good, because the rest is subscription-only: “Prime Minister Harper, Cabinet to decide on F-35 fighter jets without advice from Public Works Procurement Secretariat, say Public Works officials.”
Saab’s decision looks very rational if this is true. Hill Times.
May 31/13: No Saab. “Senior government officials” confirm to Quebecor’s QMI news agency that Saab has decided not to participate in Public Works Canada’s market analysis phase.
That doesn’t keep Saab from entering a competitive process later, if there is one. Saab has told QMI that they will re-evaluate the decision once there’s a clear way forward in Canada. QMI, via Sun News.
April 28/13: Expected losses. Canada’s Postmedia News reports:
“In December 2011, the Defence Department’s research arm, Defence Research and Development Canada, published a report in which it said “that the probability of having 63 or more (F-35s) remaining at this time (when the last one is delivered) is approximately 54 per cent.”
Canada plans to order 65 F-35As, for delivery from 2017-2022. Their expectation is 7-11 destroyed aircraft over the fleet’s expected 42-year lifespan, with losses fitting the standard fighter pattern and being heavier in the early years. So they’re claculating a 46% chance that 2 or more F-35As are crashed or lost in the first 6 years. Not unusual, or unreasonable.
Where the math becomes more questionable is the expectation that Canada can order 65 F-35As plus accompanying spares, training equipment, etc. with its budgeted funds, while placing orders in the program’s early production years from 2014-2020.
March 3/13: RFI. Canada’s issues its official RFI/ “Industry Engagement Request”:
“Five identified companies with aircraft in production—The Boeing Company, Dassault Aviation, EADS Eurofighter, Lockheed Martin and Saab Group—were previously sent a draft of the questionnaire on January 25, 2013, for comment. The National Fighter Procurement Secretariat received input from all five companies and their feedback is reflected in the final questionnaire, which the companies are being asked to complete within six weeks. A second questionnaire to obtain information on costs will be sent in draft form to the five companies for comment at a later date.”
Feb 27/13: Lifetime costs. Media traction for the Super Hornet, as Boeing has an opportunity to publicly tout their Super Hornet in a CBC TV report, which feature Boeing’s (Canadian) lead Super Hornet test pilot. The report also brings sustainment costs into Canada’s public debate for the first time, claiming $23 billion in lifetime savings from a Super Hornet buy:
“[Half] sounded too good to be true – so CBC News dug into Boeing’s figures to see how credible they are. According to the GAO, the Super Hornet actually costs the U.S. Navy $15,346 an hour to fly. It sounds like a lot – until you see that the U.S. Air Force’s official “target” for operating the F-35 is $31,900 an hour. The GAO says it’s a little more – closer to $32,500. CBC also asked Lockheed Martin to say if it had any quarrel with these numbers – and it did not…. Super Hornets, which Boeing says are 25 per cent cheaper to run than Canada’s “legacy” CF-18s.”
At this late point in the CF-18’s life, that’s certainly possible. At Lockheed Martin, they won’t publicly argue with the GAO, but they’re hopeful that its estimate will drop as the jet gains experience. At the same time, F-35 program manager Lt. Gen Bogdan has publicly pegged F-35 support projections as “just too high”, and vowed to bring them down.
With that said, the math using KPMG’s F-35 estimate as a starting point, and the GAO’s figures as the relative baselines, is that a Super Hornet buy might save Canada around $19.53 billion in ownership costs to 2042 ($37 – 17.47 billion operations). It will actually be less than that, because upgrades should be assumed to factor in at the same cost. So let’s say $15 billion. CBC also mistakenly assumes that an F/A-18E/F purchase price of around $60 million would also save half of the F-35 program’s $9 billion maximum purchase price, but it wouldn’t. Rather, it would allow Canada to buy all 65 fighters that the RCAF says are the minimum required, including 12 EA-18G electronic attack aircraft, instead of buying fewer than 65 F-35As. Of course, even $15 billion is a large enough figure to make a dent in the public debate. CBC article | CBC video: The Super Hornet.
Feb 14/13: More estimates. Canada’s government orders another cost estimate connected to their fighter replacement program:
“In December 2012, KPMG presented the Next Generation Fighter Capability: Life Cycle Cost Framework to the National Fighter Procurement Secretariat—a life-cycle cost framework for the F-35 program. The purpose of this new review is to ensure that the framework is appropriately applied by National Defence and that the cost estimates in the upcoming 2013 Annual Update are sound…. The notice of proposed procurement about the review is posted on the Government of Canada’s tendering system hosted on MERX. The contract is expected to be awarded in the coming weeks.”
Feb 13/13: Library of Parliament Report. Canada’s Library of Parliament issues “Estimating the Cost of Replacing Canada’s Fighter Jets,” which chronicles the various cost estimates submitted to Parliament and in major published reports. One interesting change is noted by The Globe and Mail:
“The amount National Defence has set aside for weapons has been cut to just $52-million for the estimated 30-year operational life of the jets, compared with estimates in two previous reports of $270-million and $300-million.”
The key driver is a December 2012 Public Works report that said existing weapons in Canadian stocks wouldn’t be adequate over the fighter’s full 40-year life cycle. Which is reasonable. Compatibility with American weapons saves money in the near-term, but doesn’t change the need to buy items over the long term. Paveway laser-guided bombs last a long time, but existing AIM-120 missiles will need upgrades at the very least, and new weapons will become necessary over the next 40 years. Hence the statement that “over the life cycle of the replacement fleet, the acquisition of newer weapons will be considered and funded as separate projects.”
So, on the one hand it’s reasonable. On the other hand, weapons are a reasonable part of a fighter fleet’s cost, and the sudden change in terms is an obvious way to lower the published cost by a quarter billion dollars. Sources: Library of Parliament, Estimating the Cost of Replacing Canada’s Fighter Jets”, Globe and Mail, “National Defence to buy fewer bombs if F-35 selected as new air force fighter”.
Feb 12/13: Whitewashed report? Comparing a Nov 1/12 copy of the draft Parliamentary Public Accounts committee report with the final November 2013 product shows the removal of important information that was shared during Spring 2011 hearings. Opposition members are incensed.
CP chronicles omissions including references to the F-35’s selection without competition, a caveat that the price tag per aircraft could almost double from the claimed USD $75 million to $138 million, and passages critical of the F-35’s industrial benefits program. More explosively, it dropped Auditor General Michael Ferguson’s testimony that the Conservative Party government had seen the full cost of the plan, as opposed to the final report that blamed DND for omissions. Ferguson’s stated concern that F-35 ownership costs could create problems for future defense budgets was also edited out, along with a passage of cost-related testimony from Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page, who has an unfriendly relationship with the current government. Sources: CBC News, “F-35 committee report strategically edited, draft suggests”.
Feb 11/13: Postmedia obtains documents from Canada’s 2005-2006 look at its fighter options, and discovers what DND thought of each option.
Eurofighter: “Remarkable” sensor fusion and fine cockpit, a powerful aircraft with effective air-to-air capabilities and reduced RCS, though it isn’t a full stealth aircraft. Might even be considered a borderline “5th generation” plane. The report worried about interoperability, and it also talked more bluntly about buying aircraft from anyone other than the USA. Relayed contents don’t mention Eurofighter’s low variety of integrated weapons and sensors, which is still an issue in 2013.
F/A-18 Super Hornet: Credible option with a lot of integrated weapons and bolt-on sensors, seen as a smaller shift for Canadian CF-18 maintainers. It seems to be the default backup for many nations that were considering the F-35 – and since then, the USN and Australia have proven them right. On the other hand, “It makes several compromises between approach speed, weight and structure.” The EA-18G electronic warfare option pursued by Australia is not reported, and seems not to have been mentioned.
JAS-39 Gripen: A “fairly stealthy” platform due to its small size, design, and use of radar-absorbing materials, but not a full stealth aircraft. They also liked its low maintenance costs. Its system for emergency landings and landings on short airfields is different from Canada’s, which would require changes. Doesn’t seem to have discussed the new JAS-39E/F, but then, the design was unclear at that time. It’s a lot clearer now.
Rafale: Seen a fast and maneuverable, with above-average range that’s a plus for Canada. Weren’t so impressed with the cockpit, and wondered about the Snecma M88 engine’s cold-weather performance. Relayed report contents didn’t focus on Rafale’s unique weapon incompatibilities with the American gear that fills Canada’s existing stores, and which can be diverted from US stocks for emergencies and joint efforts. That’s a big omission, but the relayed contents also missed Rafale’s strong SPECTRA electronic protection system, which proved itself over Libya 5 years later.
F-35: Saw its stealth features as unique. Flip side of this is that security at Canadian bases would become more elaborate and expensive. Worried that “many of the capabilities and performance features (of the F-35) such as signature, payload, speed, range and manoeuvrability, could change due to the U.S. focus on keeping the costs down.” Which is indeed happening. On the other side of the coin, F-35 sensors and sensor fusion are uniquely excellent, but that isn’t in the relayed report contents.
Canada’s competitor conclusions
Jan 29/13: Bridge buy? Canada’s Hill Times reports that Canada is considering a short-term bridging fighter buy. The key piece of information comes from the letter announcing the Industry Engagement Request, which also asked respondents to talk about options in to the 2020-2030 frame, and then options beyond 2030:
“The evaluation of options will review and assess all available fighter aircraft and will result in a comprehensive report with the best available information on the capabilities, costs, and risks of each option, including bridging and fleet options…”
That would put them in the same boat as Australia’s RAAF, which also flies upgraded F/A-18 Hornets. They’ve already received 12 F/A-18F Super Hornet fighters as a bridge, plus 12 more that will be converted to EA-18G electronic warfare and air defense suppression planes. Australia is finding that F-35 delays are creating the need for a longer bridge, and the RAAF could end up with a 50/50 long term split between the Super Hornet family and the F-35. In practice, a similar logic is likely for Canada: every “bridging” fighter bought is 1 fighter subtracted from their eventual F-35 order. Hill Times | CDFAI.
Dec 16-17/12: Trust busted? An article in the Hill Times magazine quotes former DND assistant deputy minister for procurement Alan Williams, who says that “We know that the fiasco certainly started by the bureaucrats hijacking the process,” while ministers simply went along and didn’t ask questions.
The British TV hit “Yes, Minister” was based on that very premise, but this instance doesn’t seem to have the same comic value. Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page has had a publicly hostile relationship with the Conservative Party government, and he has been very critical of the CF-35 decision process (q.v. May 3/12), but it still matters when he says things like:
“Trust is broken. I don’t think you get, in terms of a reset, that trust back until you have that debate in front of Parliament…. From my view, the (F-35) process that we had up to date, certainly our experience in 2010-11, was a complete failure, and, I think, a lack of leadership both politically and I think by public servants as well…. There were numbers that existed at DND (Department of National Defence) that were much higher than what was presented to Parliament. Canadians saw the lower set of numbers… So in that sense, they were misled”
Dec 7/12: KPMG’s cost estimate. The precise figure for KPMG’s cost estimate is reported to be C$ 45.802 billion, based on an in-service life of 42 years. Current F-35 industrial participants are becoming worried, and a soon-to-be released companion study will take a second look at real figures for industrial benefits. Those estimates have already been quietly scaled back from C$ 12 billion to C$ 9.85 billion, and may drop further. The government defends their 20-year cost estimates, and they do have a point. Former treasury board official Michelle d’Auray:
“Going beyond 20 years is considered too high-risk to ensure that the value in contracting with industry would be sustained, or the costs would be going beyond the 20-year mark… So that, for us, is considered to be reasonable, and as the deputy minister of National Defence indicated, all of the submissions to date have been presented to the Treasury Board have used a 20-year cost estimate.”
Periods over 20 years are chancy for contracts, and wide potential variations in core inputs like fuel prices makes those estimates little better than guesses. Even guesses can still be of value, but only if they’re comparing components like fuel costs with other alternatives, using the same baseline pricing assumptions. See: Canadian Press | CTV | The Globe and Mail | National Post.
KPMG’s F-35A lifetime cost estimate
Dec 6/12: Not cancelled. Postmedia, which usually has good sources within the government, says Canada will pull out of the Joint Strike Fighter program. It turns out not to be true. Canada is about to analyze its options, and as noted earlier, Public Works has thrown out the specifications straightjacket. Early reports indicate that Boeing (Super Hornet) and Eurofighter have been approached for detailed information, with the possibility of broadening the invitation.
The other revelation in their article is that KPMG is done with their audit, which exceeds even the $29 billion maximum estimate from previous studies. Reports are pegging the potential 36-year lifecycle cost at C$ 40+ billion, though that involves a longer service life than previous estimates, and includes fuel costs. CBC | The Globe and Mail | National Post | Flight International.
Nov 30/12: Stealth. Gen. Tom Lawson, a former fighter pilot and Canada’s new chief of defence staff, tells a Parliamentary committee that the F-35 isn’t the only aircraft able to meet stealth requirements. The F-35 is better, he says, but when asked by Liberal defence critic John McKay whether there is only 1 airplane that can meet the Canadian military’s requirements in this area, Lawson said “no.” He later added, correctly, that “Fourth and fifth generation is not a very helpful way of looking at that aircraft.”
Canada’s exact “low observability” requirements, such as they are, have never been made public. It is true that even 4+ generation fighters like the Eurofighter, Gripen, Rafale, and Super Hornet will all have significantly smaller radar cross-sections that the current CF-18 fleet, even though several of them are bigger aircraft. The F-35 will be smaller again. See above for a more detailed discussion of “stealth.” CBC.
Nov 22/12: 1st cracks. Public Works Minister Rona Ambrose tells Canada’s House of Commons that Canada’s “review of options will not be constrained by the previous statement of requirements.” That seems minor, but it isn’t. DND’s requirements had been crafted to make the F-35 the only available choice, per the department’s standard pattern over the last 7-8 years. Breaking that lock opens up other options for consideration.
Oct 22/12: New RCAF chief Lt.-Gen. Yvan Blondin tells the Canadian Press that DND hasn’t really begun looking at other fighter options beyond the F-35. A thorough examination of other possible aircraft would require a more detailed study by military planners, and he said that the order hasn’t been given. Blondin was asked twice during the interview whether other aircraft had been considered, and he replied: “No.”
That examination was central to the government’s promises after the negative 2011 Auditor General Report, so the government replied by saying that “work continues on the evaluation of options… The options analysis is a full evaluation of choices, not simply a refresh of the work that was done before.” None of which actually means that a serious evaluation is underway.
DID’s verdict: Lt-Gen. Blondin told the truth, and the government is being dishonest. There isn’t a serious analysis taking place. To date, any analysis has been a hasty and less-than-professional justification for a decision that’s already made. There is no sign yet that this pattern is changing. Canadian Press | Canada DND.
Sept 28/12. Requirements. Canada’s CBC obtains a redacted copy of Canada’s official Statement of Requirements for its next-generation fighter, and makes it available for download. As they explain:
“The Statement of Operational Requirements for Canada’s next jet fighter was produced by the Royal Canadian Air Force Directorate of Air Requirements in June, 2010. It wasn’t submitted to Canada’s Public Works department until after the government announced its decision to purchase 65 F35 Joint Strike Fighter aircraft in July, 2010. Normally Public Works is responsible for procuring hardware for the military after they have submitted their statement of requirements. [CBC Program} The Fifth Estate obtained this highly redacted copy through an Access to Information request.”
Sept 7/12: Auditor hired. KPMG has been given a $643,535 to review/audit projections for the CF-35. Their offer was 1 of 2 bids reviewed by Treasury Board and Public Works and Government Services Canada. CBC.
Aug 9/12: Delayed audit. Almost 2 months after its self-imposed deadline, Public Works quietly re-issued a tender, asking for an audit firm to come forward and take on the politically explosive task of verifying the F-35 figures provided by DND. The minister’s office tells Postmedia that the original tender was the problem, as it didn’t give accounting firms enough flexibility to sub-contract portions of the project. This might be important, in order to gain in-depth expertise in defense procurement.
The new tender doesn’t close until the end of August, which means the review might not even arrive in 2012. Postmedia.
May 24/12: Industrial. Lockheed Martin vice-president Steve O’Bryan talks to Canada’s Postmedia News about the F-35. They’re working on the understanding that Canada will place a production order in FY 2014
“Right now we will honour all existing contracts that we have. After that, all F-35 work will be directed into countries that are buying the airplane… What we have is the official statement out of the government and we’re working with the government. They’re committed to the F-35, they’ve selected it, and we haven’t had any change in that official position.”
That commitment has underpinned the JSF program’s work with Canadian firms, which the National Post reports as C$ 435 million to 66 Canadian companies since 1997. Even if those partnerships stop, however, Canadian procurement policies will require industrial offsets from the winner worth 100% of purchase value. The industrial question for the F-35 involves the perceived long term technical and financial value of their work to Canada’s aerospace industry, vs. the offsets their competitors might offer. That makes for a complex evaluation, but it’s often a component of big-ticket defense competitions around the world. Postmedia.
May 15/12: Gone Rogue? Following a round of Parliamentary hearings, in which senior DND bureaucrats are grilled about their CF-35 program estimates and conduct, NDP MP Malcolm Allen goes so far as to say that:
“This is a department that’s really gone rogue… [the minister] has totally lost control of that department… There’s no faith in this department anymore. None whatsoever.”
Allen is the Official Opposition party’s shadow minister for Agriculture, but he’s involved in the F-35 issue through his role on Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee. It’s expected that opposition members will oppose the government of the day, and the NDP’s socialism has always been coupled with an aversion to the military. With that said, for an MP in his position to level that kind of criticism at a government department, and use words like “no faith” and “out of control,” is a very rare thing. No political party rules forever, and if DND is seen as institutionally untrustworthy and dishonest by Canada’s other major parties, they will have created very dire future for themselves. Postmedia.
May 3/12: Was DND honest? Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page tells its Public Accounts Committee that the government withheld key information about the full costs of the F-35 in 2011, against explicit requests, in an effort to present a lower price tag to Canadians.
“Over the past few weeks, it has become clear that the Department of National Defence provided the PBO with figures that did not include all operating costs… The PBO understood that it had been provided with full life-cycle costs from DND as required… It seems difficult to understand how there could have been any confusion as to whether or not the PBO included operating costs within its estimate.”
DND officials say they understood that operations and maintenance costs should be excluded, but Page drew attention to the November 2010 committee motion that prompted PBO’s report. It specifically called for the release of all documents that outline life-cycle costs. Postmedia.
April 3/12: Auditor General report. The office of the Auditor General of Canada delivers its 2012 Spring report, including a chapter covering Canada’s process for selecting and then budgeting for the F-35. Based on previous stories concerning leaked drafts, the report has been softened and made more vague.
On the one hand, it describes how the F-35 program itself was built to circumvent normal procedures in participating governments, and make any subsequent competitions difficult to execute fairly. This is true, and beyond Canada’s influence. On the other hand, the report describes a number of instances where Canada’s DND has deliberately misled Parliament, a situation that past OAG reports have now detailed in almost every major Canadian defense procurement program over the last 5 years. Beyond deliberate deceptions, DND also made repeated assertions about both the F-35’s costs and its air needs that were not backed by any substantive analysis. Public Works Canada, which is supposed to serve in an independent oversight role, utterly failed in this duty, and was often hampered by DND’s refusal to provide information when it did attempt to act.
In response, the government “accepts the Auditor General’s recommendation and conclusions,” and commits to a number of steps. None of them imperil the F-35 program yet, or punish past misconduct, but the government is leaving themselves an official out.
The biggest apparent commitment is a freezing of funding at C$ 9 billion procurement and C$ 7 billion for support, followed by a statement from Associate Minister of National Defence Fantino that they “will acquire the F-35 only if and when we can operate within that budget.” This is less of a concession than it seems. First, it reiterates stated policy. Second, it freezes only the purchase cost. Support costs are even more likely to see serious cost inflation, but are the easiest to falsely assume away in advance. If they double to C$ 14 billion in real costs, Canada would have no option but to pay. Finally, it offers no other fighter options, or even preparation to make another fighter option feasible. Canada’s DND will “continue to evaluate options,” but the C$ 16 billion is still described as an F-35 acquisition budget, not a fighter acquisition budget. Likewise, the program’s new coordinating Secretariat in Public Works Canada is the F-35 Secretariat, though the effect clearly shifts authority out of the Department of National Defence, and away from Minister for National Defence Peter Mackay.
Annual updates to Parliament have now been promised, to be delivered within 60 days of receiving revised costing forecasts from the USA’s F-35 program. The question is whether these Parliamentary reports will continue to omit pertinent information that is not mentioned by the US office, or will otherwise improve the past record of incomplete and misleading reports. It’s more encouraging that Canada’s Treasury Board Secretariat will have to commission an independent review of DND’s acquisition and sustainment project assumptions and potential F-35 costs, and make that public, before a purchase contract is signed. OAG 2012 Spring Report. | Canada PWGSC/DND response | Canada’s CBC: video of OAG presentation.
OAG criticizes the program
April 3/12: F-35 schedule & costs. Aviation Week’s Bill Sweetman takes a deep look into the Pentagon’s latest Selected Acquisition Reports, which was released on March 30/12. Some of the conclusions are very relevant to Canada’s choices:
“Another three-year slip to initial operational test and evaluation, the culmination of system development and demonstration, which now is due to be complete in 2019 – the target date is February but the threshold date is October… it appears that the main culprit is software and hardware, mainly in terms of… sensor fusion and emission control – that take place in the fighter’s main processor banks… In what follows, I’m going to use average procurement unit cost (APUC)… recurring flyaway is the lowest cost, but neither the US nor anyone else can put an aircraft on the ramp for that money. And all numbers are base-2012… The APUC for the F-35A in 2013-14 is $184-$188 million, versus $177m (2009 dollars) for the last F-22s. And that is at a much higher production rate.”
Most ominously for the F-35’s future cost structure:
“Although the basis of the numbers has been changed, the SAR still compares the F-35A with the F-16, and shows that the estimated CPFH [DID: Cost Per Flight Hour] for the F-35A has gone from 1.22 F-16s in the 2010 SAR to 1.42 today – versus 0.8 F-16s, which was being claimed a few years ago. Where is that operations and support money going to come from?”
March 20/12: Plan B? As Canada’s government gives conflicting signals about its F-35A commitment, and braces for a scathing Auditor General report about their pledged buy, other planes may get an opening:
” The likeliest contenders, should there be a competition, are U.S.-based Boeing, maker of the F-18 Super Hornet, and Dassault of France, maker of the Rafale… “In our world we’re already in a competition,” one industry insider said. “(Associate Defence Minister) Fantino himself said we’re basically looking at our options. There’s a team at (Department of National Defence) looking at the market. So it’s already on.”
Despite this report, Canada’s considerable stockpile of American-made air-to-air and air-to-ground weapons adds huge additional switching costs to an already-expensive Rafale aircraft, and makes it a very unlikely challenger. Post Media.
March 15/12: Auditor General. Canada’s Auditor General is carving out a respected niche in Canadian politics, and that may be bad news for the F-35. The office is due to deliver a report on Canada’s F-35 plans by April 3rd, and a draft copy has been circulating. It reportedly says that the air force relied more or less exclusively on Lockheed Martin for all key pricing and performance assertions, even as government officials failed to follow procurement rules. Globe and Mail | Macleans magazine | National Post | Post Media | UPI.
March 13/12: If? Deputy defense minister Julian Fantino tells the House of Common Defence Committee that Canada has made no commitment to the F-35A, and uses the word “if” with respect to any proposed buy. While he maintains Canada’s interest in the aircraft, the comments are seen as a marked change in tone. A later release by Canada’s DND highlights Fantino’s March 16/12 CADSI speech, in which he affirms the industrial benefits of the F-35 program. Canadian Broadcasting Corp. | Globe and Mail | iPolitics.ca | Toronto Star | Reuters || Canada’s DND.
Nov 24/11: Norway’s costs. Norwegian MP Roger Ingebrigtsen [Troms, Labour Party], and Rear Admiral Arne Røksund, head of their Department of Defence Policy and Long-Term Planning, visit Canada. They respond to Canadian MP Christine Moore [Abitibi-Temiscamingue, NDP], who asks about Norway’s planned F-35 purchase:
“Mr. Roger Ingebrigtsen: It’s about $10 billion U.S. That’s for 51 or 52 air fighters. That’s $10 billion today…
RAdm Arne Røksund: …The life cycle costs will be, I think, about–this is not public yet, so I have to be careful – $40 billion U.S. over 30 years. So that’s life cycle costs over 30 years, all included.
Ms. Christine Moore: …So the $10 billion is simply to purchase the aircraft themselves.
RAdm Arne Røksund: That is for the planes, initial logistics included, repair kits, and so on, for the first few years.”
The purchase figures are consistent with accounts of NOK 61 – 72 billion, but the 30-year sustainment costs are new. Ottawa Citizen Defence Watch.
Oct 28/11: Canada’s National Post reports that Canada’s F-35A purchase may not be a sure thing, even though the majority government could easily force the sale through. Excerpts:
“This minister has a knack for projecting blithe confidence. But in this instance he is increasingly offside with other members of the cabinet and with the Prime Minister’s Office, sources familiar with the situation say… Indeed in defence circles, it is believed that Julian Fantino was installed as under-minister in charge of procurement partly to offset MacKay’s tendency to defer to the senior military brass… “The reaction is, where’s the competition, where’s the bidding, and what do you mean you don’t know the price?” acknowledges Senator Colin Kenny, former chair of the Senate defence committee and a strong proponent of the F-35… there are three elephants in the room…”
One is Canada’s 20-year, C$ 33 billion national military shipbuilding strategy, which is politically untouchable. The 2nd and 3rd issues refer to the effect of a possible slowdown and/or cut of F-35 buys in America and in Europe, which would raise the price for Canada’s planes. Our analysis: it’s too early to call Canada’s F-35 deal into serious question. On the other hand, if these reports are true, it’s no longer the sure thing that it seemed to be when Prime Minister Harper won his majority government.
Oct 23/11: Communications frozen? A Global TV News article reveals that the F-35 will have issues communicating during arctic patrols, because its satellite communications capability will be worse than the current CF-18 fleet’s when it’s delivered:
“Military aircraft operating in the high Arctic rely almost exclusively on satellite communications… The F-35 Lightning will eventually have the ability to communicate with satellites, but the software will not be available in the initial production run, said a senior Lockheed Martin official, who spoke on background… It is expected to be added to the aircraft when production reaches its fourth phase in 2019, but that is not guaranteed because research is still underway.”
Sept 6/11: CF-18 Sims. L-3 Link Simulation & Training announces a foreign military sale contract through US NAVAIR’s Training Systems Division, to upgrade Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) CF-18 flight simulators located at Cold Lake, AB; Bagotville, PQ; and Ottawa, ON. The contract’s value was not disclosed.
L-3 Link is the original supplier for Canada’s 6 existing CF-18 Air Combat Emulators (ACEs), and 10 CF-18 Part Task Trainers, plus instructor/operator stations and brief/debrief systems. They will be upgraded with the latest F/A-18 training system capabilities, creating a common F/A-18 training solution with the U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps’ Tactical Operational Flight Trainers. Key upgrades to the trainers will include a new photo-texture visual system database, and enabling the Mission Operation Center to conduct multi-plane training. The CF-18 training systems will also include Canada-specific modifications.
Aug 31/11: CF-18 support. Canada adds up to C$ 111 million (currently around $112 million) to its CF-18 Primary Air Vehicle contract with L-3 Military Aviation Services (L-3 MAS), converting the previous arrangement to a full Optimized Weapon System Support program.
The contract breaks down as another C$ 80 million to 2017 in the base contract (now C$ 547 million), plus a set of extension options that could extend the additional work out to 2020 and raise the total by C$ 111 million, taking the overall contract to C$664 million (currently $676 million). OWSS adds new items to the previous contract’s list of maintained components (vid. Sept 1/10), consolidating them under this 1 contract, but doesn’t change contract length or other particulars. Public Works Canada | L-3 MAS [PDF].
CF-18 support extensions
May 2/11: Election. Canada’s Conservative Party wins an election forced by the opposition parties, and ends a string of minority Parliaments by taking 167 seats and gaining a Parliamentary majority.
The structure of the Canadian system ensures nearly complete party discipline. The Prime Minister can refuse to sign the nomination papers for any party candidate, forcing them to run as an independent or quit. Canada also requires whole-party leadership conventions to remove a party leader or Prime Minister, as opposed to the British tradition where it can be done by a majority of party MPs. In other words, Canada will buy any jet the Prime Minister approves. That means the F-35A. CBC Election Day coverage.
March 10-21/11: As Canada’s upgraded CF-18s join allied operations over Libya, Canada’s government and Department of National Defence exchanges fire with the Parliamentary Budget Officer over the F-35 report, in the media and via detailed statements. Bottom line? Both parties are standing firmly by their figures. The Canadian DND’s F-35 mini-site includes release and comparison of figures table, among others. See also PBO’s detailed rebuttal [PDF] | Macleans magazine | Ottawa Citizen’s “Let’s be honest about the price tag on those planes“, written by the person who signed the F-35 Phase 2 MoU on Canada’s behalf.
March 10/11: PBO F-35 report. Canada’s Parliamentary Budget Officer releases its independent report on the F-35 buy. Its conclusion: that the government’s figures for buying and maintaining the plane were based on essentially no research, and that instead of costing $16 billion ($9 billion to buy 65, and $7 billion for 20 years of operations and maintenance at $350M/year), the total will be more like $29.3 billion. They forecast $9.7 billion or more for 65 fighters, plus $19.6 billion in operations and maintenance over 30 years ($1.7 billion initial logistics and setup, $14 billion O&M, plus $3.9 billion upgrades & overhaul over 30 years, or about $650M/year). That works out to a total package cost of about $450.75 million per fighter over 30 years, exclusive of weapons and other ancillaries. This passage was especially interesting, with implications well beyond the F-35, or Canada:
“There has been an exponential increase in the cost to manufacture one kilogram of fighter jet over the last six decades. This cost has risen from under US$ 1,000/kg in 1950 to approximately US$ 10,000/kg today (both in 2009 dollars). This represents a real [DID: inflation-adjusted] annual rate of increase of approximately 3.5%.
During the same period, the average weight of jet fighter aircraft has increased by about 0.5% per year. Given this, the cost of fighter aircraft has increased 4% per year in real terms since 1950 – doubling roughly every 18 years.”
The report’s impact is magnified in 3 ways. One is that it states that its own purchase and maintenance figures are likely to be revised upward if its 75% confidence level fails, based on program trends and official reports from the USA, as well as elimination of the competitive dual-engine program. The 2nd is that an election is now imminent in Canada, and the F-35 purchase is a key source of differences between the minority Conservative Party government and its opposition parties. On the flip side, Parliament’s dissolution will end opposition attempts to see the program’s statement of operational requirements justifying the F-35’s sole-source choice, which was classified by the DND in 2010, around the time the F-35 became a major political controversy. The 3rd factor is that the report was peer reviewed by a panel of experts that included the US Congressional Budget Office and Australian Strategic Policy Institute. The unintended result of that peer review has been wider publicity and impact around the world. “An Estimate of the Fiscal Impact of Canada’s Proposed Acquisition of the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter” | Liberal Party release and pre-election ad | CTV News | Globe & Mail | Postmedia’s Canada.com | SunMedia’s Canoe | Aviation Week.
C$ 29.3 billion?
Jan 6/11: As part of a plan detailing $150 billion in service cuts and cost savings over the next 5 years, Defense Secretary Robert Gates states that he is placing the Marine Corps’ F-35B on the equivalent of a 2-year probation, extends the program’s development phase again to 2016, and cuts production of all models over the 2012-2016 time period, including 47 fewer F-35As. During the low-rate initial production phase, cuts in the number bought mean that the price for each plane doesn’t drop as quickly, making purchases more expensive. Canada’s DND responds directly to these changes, saying:
“Canada is not purchasing the STOVL variant. Canada will order the conventional take off and landing (CTOL) variant, which is the lowest-cost option that the majority of JSF partners will also acquire. The CTOL variant is progressing very well. Canada does not anticipate the announcement by the US Government regarding the STOVL variant will affect the schedule or cost of Canada’s Joint Strike Fighter Program.”
Oct 14/10: CF-18 support. The Canadian government has contracted Calgary-based Harris Canada Inc. to continue avionics and electronics maintenance of its CF-18 fighter jets, until their replacements are ready to fly. The contract is worth up to C$ 273.8 million (currently at rough parity with American dollar) until 2020, and covers nearly 2,300 components.
It is more focused than the larger L-3 MAS contract (q.v. Sept 1/10), which covers the entire aircraft, but it’s a similar sort of extension. Public Works Canada | Canadian Press | The Globe and Mail.
Sept 20/10: According to 2009 Defence Department documents obtained by the Ottawa Citizen, Canadian officers working on the Next Generation Fighter Capability project called for a “competitive process” for both the aircraft and the long-term maintenance contract. The aircraft competition was to be run in 2010, with a contract to be awarded by 2012, aircraft delivery in 2015-16, and operational fighters between 2018 – 2023. The revelations will place further pressure on the Conservative government to justify their sole-sourcing decision, which has become the crux of a political controversy. Postmedia News via Montreal Gazette.
Sept 15/10: Hearings begin in Parliament, as the Standing Committee on National Defence calls witnesses to discuss the F-35. SCND/NDDN page | Canadian Press, via Winnipeg Free Press | CBC | CTV News (incl. video) | The Globe and Mail | Postmedia interview with Public Works Minister Rona Ambrose | Toronto Sun.
Sept 12/10: Sitting MP Laurie Hawn [Cons – AB – Edmonton Centre] will be an important voice in the upcoming Parliamentary fighter debate. He’s a former CF-18 pilot. Postmedia, via Montreal Gazette.
Sept 1/10: CF-18 Support. Canada needs to keep its existing fleet flying, and that cost money, too. A late F-35 means a longer set of support contracts, and so the Prime Minister’s Office announces the extension of its CF-18 Systems Engineering Support Contract to L-3 Communications MAS of Mirabel, Quebec, until at least 2017. This 7-year contract extension is valued at C$ 467 million, and 3 additional 1-year extension optionscould add another C$ 86 million (C$ 553 million total). the options would also stretch the contract until the end of the fleet’s estimated service life in 2020.
The contractor’s primary responsibility for the CF-18 Hornet fleet is development and maintenance work that includes mission software, structural testing, depot-level inspections and repairs, technical support teams, and other engineering services. In addition to their Canadian maintenance work, they’ve also been involved in Australia’s HUG [PDF] Hornet upgrade and life-extension program. Canadian PMO | L-3 MAS [PDF] | CBC | National Post.
July 16/10: Sole-source F-35, eh? Canada’s Conservative Party government declares that it will buy the F-35A, without a competitive process. The jets would begin to enter service around 2016, and the initial budget is C$ 9 billion for 65 F-35 aircraft and associated weapons, supporting infrastructure, initial spares, training simulators, contingency funds and project operating costs. That budget has not been confirmed by an actual contract, however, something that reportedly led to unpleasant surprises when Canada bought C-130Js from Lockheed Martin. DND statements indicate that an F-35 contract would not be negotiated until about 2014-2015.
The government’s defense of its decision revolves around economic and industrial benefits:
“To date, Canada has invested approximately CAD$168 million in the JSF program. Since 2002, the Government’s participation in the JSF program has led to more than CAD$350 million in contracts for more than 85 Canadian companies, research laboratories, and universities – meaning that Canada has already seen a two-to-one return on its investment.
Now that Canada has committed to purchasing the F-35, Canadian industrial opportunities could exceed CAD$12 billion for the production of the aircraft. Sustainment and follow-on opportunities for Canadian industry are emerging and will be available over the 40-year life of the program. For instance, in accordance with the industrial participation agreements, all 19 Canadian companies manufacturing items for the F-35 will also repair and overhaul those components for the entire global fleet.”
The government needs that defense. They’re a minority government, and the opposition Liberal Party objects to the lack of competition and the cost. The Liberals are promising to freeze the agreement if they take power, and an election will be due by 2013 at the latest. This sort of thing has happened before, when an incoming Liberal government froze Canada’s EH101 helicopter contract, leading to a 20 year delay in fielding Sea King replacements. See: DND backgrounder | DND release | Lockheed Martin | Magellan Aerospace | Canadian Press (CP) | CTV TV | Toronto Star | Winnipeg Free Press re: local industry | BBC | NY Times | Reuters || Political angle: CBC | National Post | Toronto Star.
F-53A, yes. Competition, no.
June 11/10: The Globe & Mail newspaper reports the contents of secret documents it has acquired related to Canada’s F-35 purchase. For starters, the purchase price is expected to reach C$ 16 billion once 20 years of maintenance are factored in. The report adds:
“According to secret cabinet documents obtained by The Globe and Mail, officials are well aware that any move to open up the process to a competition could push the manufacturers of rival jets, such as the Boeing Super Hornet and the Eurofighter Typhoon, to lower their prices. In addition, the government is expecting a “negative reaction” to the fact that the contract is set to be awarded without a competition… One of the government’s major arguments is that a competition could hurt Canada’s reputation among the other countries that have been involved in Lockheed-Martin’s massive Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) program since the 1990s…”
June 7-8/10: Canadian media reports indicate that the government is about to launch single-source negotiations to buy up to 65 F-35A fighters, at a cost of about C$ 9 billion. The government says that its rationale is to “lock up the cost,” but the jet’s maintenance costs would be a moving target. Canada had a similar experience with Lockheed Martin and maintenance costs when it sole-sourced its C-130J buy.
The move is politically controversial, to the point that the topic was removed from the cabinet committee on economic growth’s June 9 agenda, then reinstated. CP | The Globe and Mail | The Globe and Mail re: controversy | Winnipeg Free Press | UPI.
Jan 4/10: Reporter David Pugliese’s sources say that Canada’s Harper government, which is currently running a $55 billion deficit, is not moving to start the CF-18 replacement program, or to make a sole-source commitment to Lockheed Martin’s F-35. Boeing, which has a substantial industrial presence in Canada, continues to lobby for a competition.
According to Canadian Air Force documents, any competition needs to start no later than 2010. That allows a contract with the winning aircraft manufacturer to be signed by 2012, in order to receive initial deliveries in 2015-2016, and reach initial operating capability in 2018. That would be 38 years after the F/A-18 Hornet won Canada’s last fighter competition, and 36 years after initial Hornet deliveries. Under this timeline, full operating capability for the Hornet’s successor would be achieved by 2023.
2009 and Earlier
Oct 8/09: Canada’s Ottawa Citizen newspaper reports that Boeing has stepped up its lobbying to create a competition:
“Some DND officials are concerned that a competition would drag on for too long and because of that Canada would not have new fighter aircraft in place when the current fleet of CF-18s is ready to be retired starting in 2017.
But representatives with U.S. aerospace firm Boeing are arguing that it makes more sense to hold a competition and let the best aircraft win. It has been involved in meetings with defence officials.
In addition, Canadian industry representatives who support Boeing have approached government officials to question the idea of a sole-source deal.”
Aug 22/09: Canada’s Ottawa Citizen newspaper reports that the government is preparing a presentation to cabinet for approval of a sole-source, multibillion deal to to buy 65 F-35s, even though military leaders had earlier claimed that a competitive process would be followed in any replacement of Canada’s F/A-18A/B Hornets.
The Ottawa Citizen cites Lockheed Martin officials who say they expect Canada to make its decision over the next 12 months. Canada is currently a JSF Tier 3 member, who has committed $150 million to the project thus far. Meanwhile, officials from Boeing (F/A-18 E/F Super Hornet) and Gripen International (JAS-39NG) are interested in competing for Canada’s follow-on order.
Dec 11/06: F-35 Production MoU. In a ceremony at the Pentagon in Washington, DC, Canada’s Department of National Defence formalizes their continued partnership in the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter program. Canada was the 2nd of 8 partner nations to sign the MoU for the Production, Sustainment and Follow-on Development phase. The Department of Industry also signed MoUs with Lockheed Martin Aeronautics, Pratt & Whitney and the GE Rolls-Royce Fighter Engine Team.
The Canadian Department of National Defense had this to say regarding the F-35’s status as the follow-on to its current CF-18 (F/A-18A) fighter fleet:
“While participation in this next phase does not commit the Department to purchasing the multi-role aircraft, it is helping to define and evaluate DND’s future requirements for the next generation of fighter aircraft to replace the CF-18 and its capabilities. It is also contributing to improved interoperability between Canadian, American and allied forces and is enhancing the competitiveness and technological capability of Canada’s aerospace sector.”
F-35 Production MoU
- JSF Program Office – JSF Production, Sustainment and Follow-on Development MoU [PDF], update 4. From 2010.
- Canada Public Works – Evaluation of Options to Sustain a Fighter Capability. Includes the 4 people appointed to the National Fighter Procurement Secretariat (NFPS) panel in 2013. Just 1 has military experience.
- Canada NFPS (March 3/13) – Final Industry Engagement Request: Capability, Production and Supportability Information Questionnaire.
- Canada DND – F-35 Joint Strike Fighter: Next Generation Fighter Capability
- Canada DND – F-35 Joint Strike Fighter: Next Generation Fighter Capability Mandatory Capabilities / Requirements. Vague to the point of making the title misleading. “Flying long distances” is not a requirement. “Unrefueled range of at least 1,500km at full load” would be.
- Canadian DND – CF-18 Hornet
- Wikipedia – CF-18 Hornet
- DID – Boeing Leads Phase 2 Upgrade of 79 CF-18 Fighters. Referred to as CF-18AM or CF-18BM. The last one was delivered in March 2010.
- Canada DND – Joint Strike Fighter: Technical Briefing. See slide 23: “F-35-The only option that met all CF Mandatory Requirements…” Presented March 17/10.
- F-35.ca – Official lobbying site
- DID FOCUS – F-35 Lightning: The Joint Strike Fighter Program, 2012-2013
- DID FOCUS – F-35 Joint Strike Fighter: 2009-2010
- DID – Eurofighter’s Future: Tranche 3, and Beyond
- DID – Super Hornet Fighter Family MYP-III. The F/A-18E/F, Advanced Super Hornet, and EA-18G.
- DID – EA-18G Program: The USA’s Electronic Growler. A very specialized variant that performs high-power jamming and air defense suppression.
- DID – Lightning Rod: F-35 Fighter Family Capabilities and Controversies. Free-to-view article covers the base F-35 platform, with links to related coverage.
- DID – The JAS-39 Gripen: Sweden’s 4+ Generation Wild Card
- DID – France’s Rafale Fighters
Official Reports/ Presentations
- US GAO (March 24/14, #GAO-14-322) – F-35 Joint Strike Fighter: Problems Completing Software Testing May Hinder Delivery of Expected Warfighting Capabilities. Something known for some time, but left out of Canada’s official reports.
- Industry Canada Dept. (Dec 10/13) – Canadian Industrial Participation in the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Program. Includes current totals and an estimate of future opportunities.
- CBC (Sept 28/12) – More on the SOR Report. Redacted copy of Canada’s official Statement of Requirements for its next-generation fighter. “The Statement of Operational Requirements for Canada’s next jet fighter was produced by the Royal Canadian Air Force Directorate of Air Requirements in June, 2010. It wasn’t submitted to Canada’s Public Works department until after the government announced its decision to purchase 65 F35 Joint Strike Fighter aircraft in July, 2010. Normally Public Works is responsible for procuring hardware for the military after they have submitted their statement of requirements. [CBC Program} The Fifth Estate obtained this highly redacted copy through an Access to Information request.”
- Canada DND (August 2013) – Next Generation Fighter Capability Annual Update.
- Canada DND (Aug 5/13) – 2013 Department of National Defence Annual Update on Next Generation Fighter Capability Life Cycle Costs. No major changes. Conducted by Raymond Chabot Grant Thornton Consulting Inc.
- Auditor General of Canada (April 3/12) – 2012 Spring Report of the Auditor General of Canada: Chapter 2 – Replacing Canada’s Fighter Jets
- Canada’s Parliamentary Budget Officer (March 10/11) – An Estimate of the Fiscal Impact of Canada’s Proposed Acquisition of the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter [PDF]. Followed by a detailed March 23/11 statement, in response to DND’s public disagreement with their study: Comparing PBO and DND Cost Estimates on Canada’s Proposed Acquisition of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter: Some Preliminary Questions and Answers on Key Issues [PDF].
- Canada DND (March 17/11) – Next Generation Fighter Capability: Comparison of Costing. With the PBO. See also the accompanying Narrative document.
News & Views
- Airbus Defence and Space – Passive Radar: to see without being seen [PDF]. In frequencies that may not be stealth friendly.
- Ottawa Citizen Defence Watch (March 8/14) – Just Face It – The F-35 Is A “Bomb Truck”
- James Hasik (Oct 1/13) – Less stealth, more agility, and more certainty: what the Super Hornet has, and whether that will matter in Canada
- Canadian Skies (May 12/13) – Fighter Focus: Eurofighter and Gripen
- Canada.com (Dec 6/12) – Canada’s involvement in the F-35. A timeline.
- Aviation Week (April 3/12) – JSF – SAR Discloses Another Three-Year Slip. Not to mention some costs.
- Ottawa Citizen Defence Watch (Sept 19/11) – Canadian Forces Never Did Full Examination of the Super Hornet, the F-35 Competitor
- Aviation Week (March 23/11) – JSF Cost Predictions Rattle Foreign Customers [dead link]. “Canada’s report – “An Estimate of the Fiscal Impact of Canada’s Proposed Acquisition of the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter” – came out March 10. The report predicts that average unit production cost for its F-35s will be $148 million with an additional $15 million for the engine, which brings the total to $163 million per aircraft. Cost estimates given to Congress last week say the fourth low-rate initial production batch, with engines, will cost $127 million per aircraft for the F-35A, $141 million for the F-35B and $158 million for the F-35C…. [Lockheed] officials contend their estimates… predict that each Canadian aircraft will cost $70 to 75 million when deliveries begin in 2016. “It is not immediately obvious, given the available evidence, how the cost can be reduced to estimates predicted by Lockheed Martin over 10 years ago,” the Canadian report says…. Unless there is compelling evidence to the contrary, it is difficult to see prices reducing to their original estimated level,” it concludes…. The Canadian study also lists a number of additional opportunities for cost escalation that could inflate Ottawa’s F-35 bill.”
- Ottawa Citizen’s (March 23/11) – Let’s be honest about the price tag on those planes.” Written by Alan Williams, who signed the F-35 Phase 2 MoU on Canada’s behalf.
- The Dominion (Feb 28/11) – Under the Radar: Diplomatic cables raise concerns of US influence in F-35 jet campaign
- Embassy Magazine (Feb 23/11) – DND Claims key F-35 Document is ‘classified’. Which is odd because, as the article points out, at least 4 other documents of that type have been released via DND’s own web site.
- US CDI (Jan 21/11) – F-35 Testimony to Canada’s House of Commons. CDI.org no longer resolves; alternate link to a transcript.
- Ottawa Citizen’s 3-part Series on Canada’s F-35 Buy (Dec 11-13/10) – Maintenance tab may send cost of new fighter soaring to $21B | The untold story of Canada’s JSF deal | Selling Canada on the need for fighters
- Ottawa Citizen (Dec 13/10) – Can the F-35 win a charm offensive?
- Aviation Week Ares (Nov 1/10) – Uh-O Canada
- Vancouver Sun (Oct 13/10) – Scrap F-35s for cheaper drones, defence analyst argues. Additional context: the defense analyst in question works for the left-wing Rideau Institute, and the study is publicized by the socialist CCPA (q.v. release).
- Wikileaks (Dec 16/08) – cable 08OSLO670, LESSON LEARNED FROM NORWEGIAN DECISION TO BUY JSF. May have a lot of relevance for Canada.
- DID (Sept 7/08) – Canada Investing in F-35 Related R&D
- DID (June 23/08) – Canada Lays Out Future Defense Plans
- Wings Magazine – The F-35 and Canada’s Aviation Future