The Canadian Global Affairs Institute provides credible, open access expertise on global affairs. With your support, we can continue to spark impassioned nation-wide discussions designed to help Canadians better understand their role in the international arena.
S U P P O R T   U S

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.

Biden’s push for EV revolution is a ‘win’ for Canada: Policy Analyst

by BNN Bloomberg (feat. Eric Miller), BNN Bloomberg, January 20, 2021

New US Arctic strategies ignore climate risks in focus on geopolitics, experts say

by Melody Schreiber (feat. Tim Choi), Arctic Today, January 20, 2021

From Alberta’s oilsands to tariffs, how Biden’s presidency could change Canada

by Graham Slaughter, Ryan Flanagan, and Rachel Aiello (feat. Sarah Goldfeder, Stephen Saideman, and Laurie Trautman), CTV News, January 20, 2021

Challenges ahead despite major shift in Canada-U.S. relations under President Biden: expert

by Cormac Mac Sweeney and Kathryn Tindale (feat. Colin Robertson), News 1130, January 20, 2021

How Biden’s Made-in-America plan could impact Canadian companies

by Brett Bundale (feat. Colin Robertson), BNN Bloomberg, January 20, 2021

Biden’s plan to cancel Keystone pipeline signals a rocky start with Canada

by Amanda Coletta (feat. Eric Miller), Washington Post, January 19, 2021

The road ahead for Biden’s unnamed ambassador to Canada

by Charlie Pinkerton (feat. Eric Miller), iPolitics, January 19, 2021

Trump’s political legacy: How will the U.S. president be remembered?

by Meredith MacLeod (feat. Sarah Goldfeder), CTV News, January 19, 2021

Canadian Conservatives reckon with fallout from Capitol Hill riot

by Maura Forrest (feat. Peter Donolo), Politico, January 18, 2021

Project Syndicate Commentators’ Predictions for 2021

by Project Syndicate (feat. Robert Muggah), The Washington Diplomat, January 16, 2021

Minding the gap

by CBA National (feat. Lawrence Herman), National Magazine, January 15, 2021


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: contact@cgai.ca
Web: cgai.ca


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


© 2002-2021 Canadian Global Affairs Institute
Charitable Registration No. 87982 7913 RR0001


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