Canada -- JSF Supporters Oppose Competition


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?

Discuss this Blog Entry 21

on May 23, 2014

The question starts with: Where will you fly, What will you look at, what will you shoot down and what to bomb. How many divisions do you need operational at one time while the rest is in maintenance or looked in upgrade programs. Canada with its vast areas should need a 2 engine fighter with great range, air refuel, good size radar and cameras. Sounds like they need approx 24*5 + reserve aircrafts equal around 140-150 F-22's and last they cost around $190M each. With weapons spares and the rest you can calculate 150*250= $37 500M if the US will sell them, otherwise modified Eurofighters by Candair with a pair of +35000lb GE F-120 engines would be a nice package supercruising over the white plains..

Cocidius (not verified)
on May 23, 2014

Now that the production F-22 is dead the Typhoon would be an excellent pick for Canada. If having two engines is important an evolved variant of the Super Bug or the F-15 would also be a good pick.

However if we're look for the best capability in a reliable package with the lowest operating costs you can't get better than the new Saab Gripen.

on May 27, 2014

Remember reading somewhere, that a Luftwaffe pilot said that the Typhoon does not work well in cold weather.
Might be worthwhile investigating, before spending B$s.

on May 23, 2014

I hope Canadians consider this fiasco when they go to the polls in the next couple of weeks.

on May 23, 2014

The federal elections aren't until next year. The problem will be remembering this issue amoungst all the other fiascos . . .

on May 23, 2014

Beats me how the proponents of the F-35 managed to snake-oil their way to the current situation. If the aircraft is good enough, it will win. Otherwise, there are several competitors out there with two engines and price on their side.

on May 23, 2014

The F-35 should not even be a candidate for procurement because it is still deep in development and only faulty prototypes are being manufactured.

The US production decision is scheduled for 2019 and there are many hurdles to overcome before then. The most rigorous F-35 testing hasn't taken place yet and operational testing is still far in the future.

Cocidius (not verified)
on May 23, 2014

How can the statement that the F-35 has "acknowledged superiority in operational performance" be supported when there has not been a fully go to war ready JSF available for testing and evaluation in 13+ years of the program?

What kind of "competitive process" can be used to validate the performance of the F-35 against it competitors when there are no fully functional aircraft to evaluate?

The honest answer is always the same. There's been no competition in Canada, Australia and many other JSF partner nations to date because there are no fully functional F-35's capable of being evaluated.

CharleyA (not verified)
on May 23, 2014

If they don't have a competition, they set themselves up for renewed political rancor... Anyway, it's good to be suspicious of any attempt to limit competition.

on May 23, 2014

The apparent criterion for the selection of an aerial weapons platform such as the F-35 seems slanted more towards job creation than Canada's need to defend itself. Money aside, no other nation has the land mass or shoreline that weighs in the consideration making the performance of the F-35 a questionable fit. The hype is that the F-35 is a superior weapons platform based on it's presumed stealth, radar and missile technology. We now know it is no longer stealth and advancing radar and missile technology mitigate the conceptual advantages it initially had. Finally it is not a proven war bird and if it were are we considering the aircraft
for our defense or the need to defend democracy in some far off land?

on May 23, 2014

See at the Canadian Defence & Foreign Affair's Institute's "3Ds Blog":

"Boosting the F-35, or, What Are Canada’s New Fighters For?"

Mark Collins

on May 24, 2014

I'm not sure what's worse, Manson shilling for a garbage aircraft or the Globe and Mail for publishing it. With very few exceptions Canada's generals are a dismal, totally politicised lot who couldn't procure a cold correctly.

on May 27, 2014

".....the F-35 would win any competition because of its 'acknowledged superiority in operational performance'" Who writes this drivel? The F35 is just another target for the F22.

on May 27, 2014

The F-35 is increasingly unlikely to win ANY competition. With its sole USP now compromised - 'stealth' - we are essentially left with a third generation fighter that is slow, has poor range, can only turn at 4G, has limited weapons storage and little room for ECM gear. And it's expensive. The Eurofighter Typhoon would out-perform the F-35 in every way. Here in England, we've mortgaged the farm, building massive aircraft carriers without cats and traps that will only ever be able to carry one aircraft type, the F-35B. It is unbelievable folly. Both the aircraft and its carrier will always be compromised without supportive cover from EA-18 Growlers and E-2D Advanced Hawkeyes, for example. They call it force projection but these carriers are unlikely to ever be put in harms way because of this dog of an aircraft.

on May 27, 2014

The joint strike fighter is a massive government boondoggle of frightening magnitude that promises to bankrupt the American Air Force's spending plans and leave us with a dog of an airplane that can't match the current fourth generation fighters. The Obama administration's decision to cancel the F-22 program but proceed with the JSF is really a scandal that dwarfs all the other ones the idiot Republicans keep harping about. Now the Canadians, too, are drinking the cool aid that Lockheed Martin is pushing? And the English are building aircraft carriers for this dog? What the hell does LM have on government officials?

on May 27, 2014

I find this statement a bit short sighted:
"..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."
The winner may provide additional capabilites above and beyond requirements, not necssarily be the cheapest. It also must be made clear exactly how the cost will be evaluated, as there are numerous strategies.

on Jul 14, 2014


England could easily get out of the mess that they created but it will rub salt into a wound and never be done.

England created their own mess when they never could make up their minds on how to build the new Aircraft Carrier, Ramp or cats and traps. Finally they decided on ramp and now stuck with the F-35B. The way out that never will happen is the get the Shukoi or its Chinese equivalent. The Russian and Chinese have been very successful using them on board of their carriers that have a ramp. Apart from that the Shukoi is quite a formable opponent

on May 18, 2015

Well there is a way out Boeing told India that the FA18sh can take off using the ramp. You get a cheaper to buy proven aircraft , operating costs at 10 to 15 thousand less. better turn around times, it has also the latest toys on board , link16 . The Hornet also comes in a Growler version which is the Electronic attack jammers.(Ps it also carries A2A . The Australians bought 28 Sh plus 12 Growlers. They love them and so will you. The US Navy also loves them they have about 500 of them. With the Billions you will save and be able to use your Carrier you only need money to put arresting cables on the sip. Check with Boeing Christmas will come early.

on May 18, 2015

And here comes the Rafale to the rescue! The only 4.5 generation aircraft to have won air to air simulated engagement on Grippen, Eurofighters and F22s... Add to this that numerous canadian companies are already Dassault partner and you get the best bang for the loonie.

on May 18, 2015

Too expensive to fail. Too many AF careers and triple dipping at stake, too many elected officials at fault for fueling this for pork.

Competition--how about Sukoi fighter :-(

on May 25, 2015

Had an interesting read in May 2015 from a leading UK Airpower magazine, about the "interoperability" of the F-35 and the Typhoon... not sure how much can be taken from a public magazine. However, the read of the capabilities of the F-35 vs Typhoon, and the general AA capabilities of the F-35 are pretty damning... eg. having great straight forward stealth, but being detectible by Typhoon or Ground radar no more than 20 degrees off. The F-35 has good AOA and is capable with a load, but "bleeds" energy quickly. Reading between the lines, the article did not favour the F-35 in any way for air-air. A presumption for years which now appears to finally be coming to light.

Considering that the RCAF (yes I am a Canuck hence my interest) is looking for an aircraft to be able to intercept Ruskies coming over the pole, it MAY at best be able to handle an intercept over the high arctic, but against a modern SU-xx type, the read gave to me, an impression it would end poorly for the poor lil' F-35. Considering the seemingly more impressive abilities of the Typhoon in A/G in at least low-intensity conflicts, and from some of the stories of recent Red Flags about the "slayer" Typhoon, it appears that this dated Gen 4 has more real-world capabilities than the F-35...

Another point to remember is that in northern deployed operations, the forces have portable barrier engagement systems to prevent runway overruns, and deploy them whenever the current Hornets are in places like Inuvik. As long as whatever is picked, has a tail hook of some sort...

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