Lockheed Martin wants F-35 in competition for jet contract
A Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is shown in this undated handout photo. (Lockheed Martin / THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Jordan Press, The Canadian Press
Published Wednesday, June 8, 2016 12:37PM EDT
Last Updated Wednesday, June 8, 2016 5:34PM EDT
OTTAWA -- The company building the F-35 fighter jet says all it wants is a chance to compete in an open and fair competition to provide the next generation of airplanes to Canada's military.
The possibility of being part of that process is murky, with the Liberal government having promised during last year's election campaign that it would not buy the F-35, but vowing to hold an open competition to replace Canada's fleet of aging CF-18s.
Further complicating matters is a published report that the Liberals have decided to purchase Boeing's F/A-18 Super Hornet -- a direct competitor to the F-35 being built by Lockheed Martin -- as an interim measure to buy time for a long-term fix.
Jack Crisler, Lockheed Martin's vice-president of F-35 business development and strategic integration, said the company plans to support the Canadian procurement process, but believes its plane can compete with and beat the Super Hornet for any contract.
When asked if the company would sue the federal government if blocked from competing for the fighter jet contract, Crisler said the company would look at all of its options.
"Right now, all we want to do is to be able to compete," Crisler said in a telephone interview.
"So if we get told that we're not allowed to compete, then we'll go and evaluate all of our alternatives at that point. But right now all we're asking to do is be able to compete in a fair, open, transparent and requirements-based competition for the replacement of the CF-18s."
The comments came amid a tumultuous two days in the House of Commons where the opposition parties attacked the Liberals over the path the government appears to be taking on a replacement for the CF-18s.
The Ottawa Citizen reported this week that cabinet had discussed buying the Super Hornets while officials seek a long-term replacement.
On Tuesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau blamed the Conservatives for backing "a plane that does not work" and was a "long way from ever working" when peppered with questions about the F-35.
Crisler said Trudeau's comments "couldn't be further from the truth." He said the U.S. Marines declared earlier this year that their fleet of F-35s is ready for combat, while the American air force is expected to make the same declaration by the end of 2016.
On Wednesday, the Conservatives questioned the Liberals about why they were reportedly sole-sourcing the purchase of the Super Hornets, rather than holding an open competition.
"I find it ironic and rich for the opposition to talk about an open-sourced, full competition considering they were going to be sole-sourcing the F-35," Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan told the Commons. "No decision has been made, but we will be replacing the CF-18s."
He said the government wanted to ensure that the procurement process ends with the military receiving the equipment it needs and that Canadian companies benefit as well.
"We will go through an appropriate evaluation and when I'm good and ready, our government will be announcing (the results) to this House," Sajjan said.
The CF-18s, purchased in the 1980s, were designed to last for 20 years. Having been pressed years beyond that timeline, the previous Conservative government decided to spend $400 million to keep the jets flying until at least 2025.
Federal lobbying records show Boeing has had a dozen meetings with government officials between February and April, including with senior staff in the Prime Minister's Office.
Those records show Lockheed Martin hasn't been able to meet any federal officials on the CF-18 file.
However, Annie Trepanier, a spokeswoman for Public Services Minister Judy Foote, whose department oversees major military procurements, said company officials had a meeting with Foote's office on April 21 and again on May 25, both about the CF-18 replacement.