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Canada finalizes deal to acquire 88 F-35s

January 10, 2023 (by Lieven Dewitte) - Canada announced the finalization of a $14.2 billion deal with the United States (US) government and Lockheed Martin with Pratt & Whitney for the acquisition of F-35 fighter jets for the Royal Canadian Air Force. The first planes are expected to enter the RCAF in 2026 with the full fleet being operational by 2033 or 2034.

Wooden mock-up of a Candian F-35 seen on July 25th, 2010. [Photo by Alain Rioux]

With the agreement, Canada becomes the last of the F-35 program’s original eight partners to acquire the stealth fighter jet.

The selection of the F-35 5th generation aircraft as part of the Future Fighter Capability Project (FFCP) Canada to replace the Royal Canadian Air Force’s fleet of F/A-18s had been announced in March 2022.

"The F-35 will be essential for protecting Canadians, enhancing Arctic security and national sovereignty, and enabling Canada to meet its NATO, NORAD and other obligations well into the future," Canadian Defense Minister Anita Anand said in a statement.

NORAD is a joint US-Canadian command that provides air and missile defense for North America.

Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine last year, notably, the F-35 has experienced a surge in demand.

In 2022 Germany, Switzerland and Finland made deals for the F-35, while NATO allies Greece and the Czech Republic also announced requests to buy the stealth aircraft.

F-35s are currently – or will soon be – a member of the fleets of Australia, the United Kingdom, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Denmark, Japan, South Korea, Israel, Poland, Belgium, and Singapore, in addition to the US Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps.

The jets come in three versions, the standard F-35A, the short-take off and vertical landing F-35B, and the aircraft carrier version, the F-35C.

Canada will buy the F-35A model to replace its aging CF-18s.

“Canada requires a fighter fleet to protect the sovereignty of one of the largest expanses of airspace in the world” – the country’s vast Arctic frontier – Anand said.

To that end, the $14.2 billion (19 billion Canadian dollars) price tag includes construction at two air bases in Alberta and Quebec, and associated equipment and services.

The first four aircraft are expected to be delivered in 2026, the next six in 2027, and the next six in 2028, with the full fleet to arrive in time to enable the phase out of the CF-18s by the end of 2032.

As an original member of the F-35 program, Canadian industry has seen $2.8 billion in contracts to date related to the construction of the fighter jet, the government said.

Te Government of Canada launched the competitive process to acquire new fighter jets in 2017. A formal request for proposals was released to eligible suppliers in July 2019. It closed in July 2020. Dassault and Airbus decided to withdraw their Rafale and Eurofighter Typhoon proposals in 2018 and 2019, respectively, saying that the requirements favored the US bids. Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Saab, proposing the Super Hornet Block III, the F-35A Lightning II and the Gripen E respectively, were asked to show how their bids could meet not only the military requirements of the RCAF for missions both at home and abroad, but also provide benefits for the national industry.

In November 2021, it was announced that the replacement proposal based on the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, one of the favorite bids considered that the RCAF already operates the “legacy” version of the Hornet, was rejected as it did not meet the federal government’s requirements. Canada ultimately selected the F-35 from the two remaining bidders, Lockheed Martin and Saab.

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