Canada -- JSF Supporters Oppose Competition

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It was the Canadian government's insistence on buying the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter without a competition that derailed its 2010 attempt to acquire the fighter. Since then, a special secretariat has taken over the acquisition from the Department of National Defense, and has sought information on alternative aircraft, but a key question remains unanswered: Will Canada conduct a real competition, without a set of requirements written to exclude any answer but JSF?

Now that the secretariat is preparing its report to the government, pro-JSF forces have spoken twice in recent days, to argue that a competition is a waste of time.

Paul Manson, who held positions as chief of the defense staff and boss of Lockheed Martin's Canada operation, asserts in a Globe and Mail op-ed that the F-35 would win any competition because of its "acknowledged superiority in operational performance". In an open letter, the Canadian JSF Industry Group argues that "a ‘competition’ [their scare quotes] will take three years to run and the only significant outcome will be hundreds of millions of dollars of more lost opportunities for companies across Canada."

Both Manson and the CJIG use dubious arguments. Because of the F-35's claimed superiority, Manson says, "it’s hard to imagine that a fair and realistic evaluation could come to any other conclusion" (than an F-35 win). This reflects an ill-informed and irresponsible view of military procurement:  the ideal competitive process is one in which more than one competitor meets the military's needs, and the winner is the one that best matches the nation's economic requirements.

Manson goes on: "It has even been advocated by some that the Statement of Operational Requirements be watered down so as to allow other contenders to appear competitive. For reasons that should be obvious, this would be unethical."

He might have been well advised to leave that particular can of worms unopened. One of the key factors in the Canadian auditor-general's 2012 report on the JSF fiasco, which led to DND being stripped of authority over the program in the first place, was that the SOR was a flawed document, hastily put together by DND after its first attempts to ram through a sole-source procurement were rebuffed by the rest of the government. The content of the SOR, which the DND tried to keep sealed even though it contained no sensitive information, is now well known: a morass of generic requirements that any competitor could meet, salted with three highly specific parameters that happen to coincide with unique aspects of the JSF.  Here's the full story.

What is "unethical" is to represent any competition based on the 2010 SOR as anything other than a fig-leaf for the sole-source procurement that the Harper government, Lockheed Martin and the Pentagon have wanted all along.

Turning to the CJIG, their first argument is that Canada will lose workshare if it does not commit soon. But this blindly ignores the key features of the JSF industrial partnership set-up. Canadian industry is entitled to bid on JSF work because of the nation's partner status, unless and until Canada withdraws from the program. That work is to be allocated according to best value, not as an offset related to orders. On the other hand, new non-partner customers are demanding and getting offset work, and this will continue whether or not Canada conducts a competition.

"The F-35 has won every competitive process it has been in - US & eight partner nations, Japan, Israel, the Netherlands and Korea", the CJIG aserts, once again showing remarkable ignorance of the program's history and current reality. None of the partner nations conducted a competition. The U.S. selected Lockheed Martin over Boeing's X-32, not its current competitors, based on a proposal that could not be executed on time, budget or within the design weight. Israel was sole-source and the F-35 lost the formal phase of the Korean contest, a decision reversed after a political spat.

Both Manson and the CGIG argue that a competition will waste time and delay the replacement of the CF-18, which is true only if Canada makes it so. The Block 3F software configuration, the initial export version, will not be ready for operational testing before 2018 - any competitor could deliver aircraft by then.

So why are the F-35's Canadian fans really so opposed to a competition?

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