Canada Taps Market for Fighter Options

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As Ottawa rethinks a plan to purchase Lockheed-Martin F-35s, the Canadian government has contacted five companies as part of a market analysis of fighter aircraft options. In a Dec. 27 letter to Boeing, Dassault Aviation, Eurofighter, Lockheed Martin and Saab, Canada's public works and government services department said the five companies could expect to be queried in early 2013 for more detailed information regarding their respective fighter programs.

“Your company’s participation in this endeavor will greatly assist the government of Canada in its assessment of options for a fighter replacement capability well into the 21st century,” wrote Michelle d’Auray, the department's deputy minister.

No date was given for the forthcoming RFI but a statement on the public works' web site indicates Ottawa will formally approach the companies for comment through a draft questionnaire in the coming weeks.

“We expect to send the document to firms early in 2013,” the web site states, adding that the government is seeking information on aircraft lethality, survivability, responsiveness and interoperability.

“The resulting analysis will also take into consideration information available to the government, as well as knowledge and experience gained by the Royal Canadian Air Force during coalition operations and exercises with allies,” the web site states.

Since 1997 Canada has invested $281 million in development and production of the stealthy, single-engine F-35. But in December Ottawa announced it would consider alternatives as a result of rising costs associated with the U.S.-led multi-national program.

French aircraft manufacturer Dassault Aviation said Jan. 9 the Paris-based company would respond to Canada's request regarding its Rafale fighter jet. Unlike the F-35A, which Canada is still considering, Rafale and other potential competitors, including the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and Eurofighter Typhoon, feature twin engines and probe-and-drogue refueling capabilities desired by Canada's air forces.

"We are ready to explain what operational capacity and industrial cooperation Rafale may offer,” Dassault confirmed in an email.

Though the likelihood of a Dassault win is slim, Ottawa and other potential buyers might take the French fighter jet more seriously if the company seals a deal with India this year for the sale of 126 Rafale aircraft. India's selection of Rafale in January 2012 was a boon to the French aircraft manufacturer, which is eager to chalk up its first export customer for the multi-role fighter. But as Paris and New Delhi dicker over technology transfer and manufacturing differences, the agreement remains vulnerable to rival challenges, and India's own budget woes could further postpone contract signature before April this year.

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