Canada’s top military procurement officer says he is optimistic that the federal government will finally end its decade-long search for a new jet fighter for the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) next year, despite the challenges and delays of the pandemic.
Three fighter manufacturers submitted their proposals last summer to provide the military with 88 new aircraft to replace the aging Air Force CF-18s, and government assessors are now busy evaluating these proposals to determine which best fits Canada’s needs.
The government hoped to complete this evaluation process later this year and sign a contract with one of the bidders in 2022, with the first jet scheduled for delivery beginning in 2025 and the last arriving in 2032.
Despite some recent pauses in the process due to COVID-19, Troy Crosby, the deputy minister of material for the Department of National Defense, said the authorities are still on track to meet that schedule and finally select a winner next year.
“This is a project where COVID has created some challenges,” said Crosby in an interview with The Canadian Press. “Despite all this, I still see the evaluation being completed this year. And that would take us to a point where we could enter into any resulting agreements or contracts in the next year, in 2022. ”
The aircraft competing to replace the CF-18 are Lockheed Martin’s F-35, Boeing Super Hornet and Saab Gripen.
The successful selection of a new jet fighter next year would mark the culmination of more than a decade of stop and start efforts marked by mismanagement and political controversy under two successive federal governments.
COVID-19 posed the latest threat to this process, with fighter plane manufacturers asking the government for more time to present its proposals last year as they struggled to finish their proposals while keeping employees’ information secure and secret.
The pandemic has also created problems for those evaluating the proposals, said Crosby.
“Much of the information is confidential,” he said. “So, this requires bringing people to the workplace. And we have to do this deliberately and carefully. But the team doing the assessment has made significant progress, impressive progress. ”
This includes recently returning to bidders to offer them an opportunity to clarify some points in their proposals or provide missing information, said Crosby, in the same way as other military procurement projects.
Officers are ready to finish their work sooner or later, as the CF-18s approach the end of their lives.
The last aircraft should have been retired last year, but Ottawa has been investing to keep them flying for another decade, thanks in large part to delays in purchasing a replacement.
Work is underway to update avionics over the next few years on all 76 CF-18s, as well as 18 F-18s that Canada bought used from Australia, Crosby said. Thirty-six will receive additional updates to their combat systems.
The total cost of this effort is estimated at about $ 1.3 billion.
As for Australian aircraft, Crosby said 15 of the 18 have already been delivered. Three are now flying with the RCAF, while the rest are still undergoing updates and changes to make them compatible with Canada’s needs.
The Canadian Press
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