In The Media

Canadian F-35 exit could signal wider air force review

by James Drew (feat. David Perry)

October 21, 2015

Canada’s change of government this week, after a decade of conservative rule, could see Ottawa swiftly exit the multinational F-35 programme and instead pursue a fighter competition, which defence analysts suggest could favour the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet or F-15SE, or Dassault's Rafale.

The incoming Liberal Party has pledged to ditch Lockheed Martin’s F-35 and “immediately” launch a competition to replace the Royal Canadian Air Force’s 77 active Boeing CF-18s, following years of indecision. The new government is also withdrawing the service’s six fighters, one tanker and two surveillance aircraft from the US-led air campaign in Iraq, and is de-emphasising the service’s expeditionary combat role in preference of homeland defence and air patrol.

Withdrawing from the F-35 programme is the first step in what some say will be a wider rationalisation and recalibration of military spending, similar to the UK’s Strategic Defence and Security Review of 2010. Buying a less expensive, off-the-shelf fighter primarily for the air interdiction and patrol role, instead of the F-35, would free up the air force’s procurement allocation, allowing it to explore other much-needed platform recapitalisations, such as of its Airbus A310 tanker/transports and Lockheed CP-140 maritime patrol aircraft, says Michel Merluzeau, vice-president for aerospace strategy at Frost & Sullivan.

Canada could even invest in airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) and surveillance platforms, such as the Boeing 737-based E-7 or Northrop Grumman E-2D Hawkeye. The latter company's RQ-4 Global Hawk unmanned air vehicle might even be examined for long-range surveillance.

“The Arctic mission is primordial,” says Merluzeau, who previously worked for Public Works and Government Services Canada on the F-35 analysis of alternatives. “Consequently, the Artic mission goes beyond tactical air missions. You have to look into a series of capabilities that involves more than a single-engine aircraft: intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, electronic warfare, tankers.

“I don’t think Canada can honestly say they’re competitive with just an F-35 to conduct those missions over the Artic. The relevance of Canada would get a serious boost from this decision, because you’ll have a more self-deployable and self-capable force.”

Boeing’s Super Hornet is the natural fit to replace the CF-18 over the F-35, says Merluzeau, but for Artic patrol missions the F-15SE and Rafale would excel. Choosing France’s Rafale would be a departure from Canada’s long-standing preference of US equipment. However, Dassault’s “trump card” could be to build the fighter in Canada.

“Beyond three aircraft per month, Dassault has got to tool up,” says Merluzeau. “It would be difficult for Boeing to say ‘we’ll assemble the F/A-18s in Canada’, considering the problems in St Louis right now” – where both the F/A-18 and F-15 are assembled. Merluzeau does not rate the Eurofighter Typhoon and Saab Gripen’s chances, despite the considerable capabilities of both aircraft.

David Perry, senior defence analyst for the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, says a procurement of 65 Lightning IIs is not affordable, and would require “some accounting jujitsu” to fit within Canada’s limited defence budget.

The conventional take-off and landing F-35A costs just under $100 million, but there is also the lesser known cost of basing, training and long-term support and maintenance. Canada spends just over $18 billion annually on defence, and the budget is due to grow by 3% annually starting in 2017.

Perry says the CF-18 replacement project hasn’t moved forward an inch since 2012, and even took a step backwards to the “options analysis phase”. The previous government has bought some time by life-extending the "Classic" Hornet to 2025, but the new administration must move quickly to get a replacement in line.

Perry says he does not expect a serious impact to Canada’s aerospace industry by withdrawing from the F-35 programme. Statements by Lockheed and Pentagon officials indicate that Canadian suppliers will continue to supply parts, although they would be likely to miss out on future sustainment work.

Lockheed also is competing for a “substantial contract” to provide the combat system for on the new Canadian Surface Combatant, Perry adds.

“In the past in Canada, there have been companies that engaged in scorched earth tactics if they had unfavourable outcomes on programmes. I think this would be a very different scenario, because [F-35] is not the only game in town.”

Be the first to comment

Please check your e-mail for a link to activate your account.

No events are scheduled at this time.


Global Times: BRICS summit displays the potential of a new future

by Editorial Staff (feat. Swaran Singh), WSFA 12, June 24, 2022

Oil's Dive Won't Bring Any Immediate Relief on Inflation

by Alex Longley, Elizabeth low, and Barbara Powell (feat. Amrita Sen), BNNBloomberg, June 24, 2022

China To Tout Its Governance Model At BRICS Summit

by Liam Gibson (feat. Stephen Nagy), The Asean Post, June 23, 2022

Soutien aux victimes d’inconduites sexuelles dans l’armée

by Rude Dejardins (feat. Charlotte Duval-Lantoine), ICI Radio Canada, June 23, 2022

Defence: $4.9 billion for radars against Russian bombs

by Editorial Staff (feat. Rob Huebert), Archynews, June 23, 2022

The Hans Island “Peace” Agreement between Canada, Denmark, and Greenland

by Elin Hofverberg (feat. Natalie Loukavecha), Library of Congress, June 22, 2022

What the future holds for western Canadian oil producers

by Gabriel Friedman (feat. Kevin Birn), Beaumont News, June 22, 2022

At BRICS summit, China sets stage to tout its governance model

by Liam Gibson (feat. Stephen Nagy), Aljazeera, June 22, 2022

Crude oil price: there are no changes to the fundamentals

by Faith Maina (feat. Amrita Sen), Invezz, June 22, 2022

Few details as Liberals promise billions to upgrade North American defences

by Lee Berthiaume (feat. Andrea Charron), National Newswatch, June 20, 2022

Defence Minister Anita Anand to make announcement on continental defence

by Steven Chase (feat. Rob Huebert), The Globe and Mail, June 19, 2022

Table pancanadienne des politiques

by Alain Gravel (feat. Jean-Christophe Boucher), ICI Radio Canada, June 18, 2022

Russia Ukraine conflict

by Gloria Macarenko (feat. Colin Robertson), CBC Radio One, June 17, 2022

New privacy Bill to introduce rules for personal data, AI use

by Shaye Ganam (feat. Tom Keenan), 680 CHED, June 17, 2022


Canadian Global Affairs Institute
Suite 1800, 150–9th Avenue SW
Calgary, Alberta, Canada T2P 3H9


Canadian Global Affairs Institute
8 York Street, 2nd Floor
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada K1N 5S6


Phone: (613) 288-2529
Email: [email protected]


Making sense of our complex world.
Déchiffrer la complexité de notre monde.


© 2002-2022 Canadian Global Affairs Institute
Charitable Registration No. 87982 7913 RR0001


Sign in with Facebook | Sign in with Twitter | Sign in with Email