Canada Opts-Out of Buying the F-35, Upgrades to F/A-18s For Now…

f-35-defense

Picture Credit: An F/A-18F Super Hornet deployed as part of Operation Inherent Resolve taxis across the flight deck the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower

Following up on a pledge during his election campaign, Prime Minister Trudeau is now confirming steps by Canada to undertake a major shift in defense policy with the election in October of a new Liberal Party government.

DefenseOne reports that “after an initial buy of F/A-18s, Justin Trudeau’s government will hold a competition to replace the rest of its CF-18 Hornets,” such that, after involvement in the $1.3 Trillion Joint Strike Fighter program since 2002, Canada is opting for a continuity-oriented “defensive” option rather than the F-35. Canada intends to begin replacing its aging CF-18 Hornet fighter jets with a batch of Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornets — while Lockheed Martin’s F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, once slated to replace the entire CF-18 fleet, will have to win a new competition to get any contracts at all.

Air Force Magazine elaborated, citing Canada’s overdue upgrade of its fighter fleet due to mission requirements. The ministry will “immediately explore” buying the Super Hornets while simultaneously launching a competition for a fleetwide replacement for its CF-18s, which have been service-extended already and are more than a decade past their planned retirement. The competition could take five years to conclude. Defense Minister Harjit Sajjan said Canada will remain part of the JSF program as a partner, but won’t necessarily buy the jets. He also said it would be “imprudent” to delay action in starting to replace Canada’s CF-18s any longer, because of Canada’s NATO and NORAD responsibilities.

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Picture Credit: JSF.mil schematic of the Boeing X-32B

But, one asks, will Boeing revive the X-32 Program as a competitor again to the Lockheed-Martin X-35 Program? Studies supporting JAST/JSF started in 1993 and led to STOVL submissions to the DOD by McDonnell Douglas, Northrop Grumman, Lockheed Martin and Boeing. Wikipedia recalls the history here: Boeing decided against thrust augmentation. They proposed an aircraft powered by a reheated turbofan that could be reconfigured (in the STOVL mode) into a direct lift engine with a pair of thrust-vectoring nozzles located near the aircraft centre-of-gravity. This led to the F119-PW-614S which powered the X-32B JSF demonstrator. Two contracts to develop prototypes were awarded on November 16, 1996, one each to Lockheed Martin and Boeing. Each firm would produce two aircraft to demonstrate conventional takeoff and landing (CTOL), carrier takeoff and landing (CV version), and short takeoff and vertical landing (STOVL).

Boeing’s strategy for a competitive advantage was to offer substantially lower manufacturing and life-cycle costs by minimizing variations between the different JSF versions. The X-32 therefore was designed around a large one piece carbon fiber composite delta wing. The wing had a span of 9.15 meters, with a 55-degree leading edge sweep and could hold up to 20,000 pounds of fuel. The purpose of the high sweep angle was to allow for a thick wing section to be used while still providing limited transonic aerodynamic drag, and to provide a good angle for wing-installed conformal antenna equipment. The compete-on-cost strategy also led Boeing to pick a direct-lift thrust vectoring system. Michael Porter’s advocacy of cost leadership (see Slideshare overview here) is vindicated once again !

Based on Canada’s 2.1% share of the JSF Program, its cost of withdrawal will amount to $300M, according to industry sources. In earlier Capital Hill hearings, JSF’s Lt. Gen. Chris Bogdan, JPO chief, said the remaining international partners would face an increased cost per plane but this was before the recent GAO report suggesting that the development program will not conclude in 2017 (see IAI’s 18 November post here) and an earlier post about “Old Platforms” as ‘technology in use’ (see IAIA’s 2 November post here). Remember, the Senate Armed Services Committee voted to disband the F-35 JPO this past June as its size was “disturbing”- now what? And, clearly, Turkey’s future in the JSF Program is at risk and, more broadly, its future as part of NATO is in question (as Newsbud flagged in August here, with links) also now as Turkey’s NATO staff has been targeted by the Erdogan purge.

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