Canada Selects F-35A for its Future Fighter Requirement

 - March 29, 2022, 7:45 AM
Two U.S. Air Force F-35As fly over Canada’s Yukon territory. A key role for the type in RCAF service will be air defense of the nation’s northern airspace. (Photo: U.S./ Air Force)

The Canadian government has selected the Lockheed Martin F-35A to meet its Future Fighter Capability Project (FFCP) requirement. The F-35A was chosen as the replacement for the Royal Canadian Air Force’s CF-188 Hornet fleet following a thorough evaluation that initially also included the Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet, Dassault Rafale, Eurofighter Typhoon, and Saab Gripen. Following the removal of the Super Hornet in December 2021, and earlier withdrawals of the Rafale and Typhoon, the F-35 was left facing the Gripen.

“It is critical that current and future Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) pilots have the most advanced equipment available to ensure they can deliver on the important work that we ask of them,” said Anita Anand, Canada’s minister for national defence in a March 28 announcement. “This procurement project for the RCAF—the largest in over three decades— will help ensure Canada can continue to defend North America, enhance our Arctic sovereignty and meet our NATO and NORAD obligations in the face of current and emerging threats. Canadians can be confident that this competitive process will deliver the best results for our Canadian Armed Forces for decades to come.”

Following the selection of what the government described as the “top-ranked bidder”, Canada will now enter into the finalization phase of the procurement of 88 F-35As. Early deliveries of a squadron’s worth are expected, with the first scheduled to be handed over in 2025. The aircraft will be based with the RCAF’s 3 Wing at Bagotville, Quebec, and with the service's 4 Wing at Cold Lake, Alberta. Both bases are being upgraded with new infrastructure to house the fighters under contracts awarded in the fall of 2020.

It is not the first time that Canada has selected the F-35A: the previous Harper government announced in 2010 that it would buy 65 aircraft without any formal evaluation of competitors, but that purchase was canceled in 2015 following an election pledge by the incoming Trudeau government. The FFCP evaluation was launched in 2017 to find a Hornet replacement, and Lockheed Martin was included on the list of eligible suppliers that received a request for proposals in July 2019.

Canada itself has been a Tier 3 industrial partner to the F-35 program since 1997, one of eight nations that signed up to the initial industrial effort. The country’s aerospace and defense industries are heavily involved in the global supply chain.