OTTAWA – There are five potential replacements for Canada’s aging CF-18 fleet. Here’s a closer look at what’s known about the contenders:
F-35 — Lockheed Martin, U.S.
Largely overlooked in Tuesday’s news about a new competition to find a CF-18 replacement was confirmation that the F-35 is back in the running. The move represents the latest twist in the stealth fighter’s history in Canada, which included a promise by the previous Conservative government to buy it in 2010 and Justin Trudeau’s promise in 2015 to do precisely the opposite. The F-35 continues to face some developmental challenges and questions about cost, but a number of allies are already receiving it. For all those reasons and more, the stealth fighter can again be considered a front-runner.
Super Hornet — Boeing, U.S.
The Super Hornet is a newer, larger and much more modern variant of the CF-18s that Canada operates, and is primarily used by the U.S. Navy and Australia. It was first flown in the 1990s; proponents note that, unlike the F-35, it has a proven track record. That appeared to sell the Liberal government, which planned to buy “interim” 18 Super Hornets until Boeing launched a trade complaint against Canadian rival Bombardier. Now, because of its older technology and uncertain production future, and the aforementioned trade dispute, the Super Hornet could be in for a tough battle in what promises to be a lengthy competition.
Typhoon — Eurofighter, European consortium
The Typhoon has largely flown under the radar, but is built by a consortium of European companies that includes Airbus, which recently offered to buy a majority stake in Bombardier’s C-Series passenger jets. It’s too early to tell whether that will be an advantage, but it can’t hurt. Still, the Typhoon, which is operated by Germany, Spain, Italy, the U.K. and several Middle Eastern countries, doesn’t have a long track record.
Rafale — Dassault, France
The Rafale has been used by the French military since the mid-2000s, and was recently sold to India, Egypt and Qatar. The aircraft has flown missions in Afghanistan, Libya, Mali, Iraq and Syria. Dassault’s main pitch is offering to transfer intellectual property and create manufacturing jobs in Canada. But dissenters have questioned the Rafale’s compatibility with North America’s air defence system, Norad, as well as its cost.
Gripen — Saab, Sweden
The Gripen was built almost entirely in Sweden and is likely the dark horse in a competition to replace the CF-18s. The aircraft does not have a long operational history and is not widely used outside of Sweden, but is said to be relatively inexpensive to operate. Like with the Rafale, there are questions about compatibility with Norad.