Once again, Canada has decided to purchase the F-35 as its next fighter jet

  • Canada just signed a deal to buy the F-35 Lightning II as its next fighter jet.
  • The F-35 will replace the CF-18 Hornet as the country’s only fighter plane.
  • The F-35 was the only realistic choice from the start, and the delay means Canada will fly the same jets for a half century.

Canada has decided to purchase the F-35 as its next fighter jet

deal between Canada and Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II [Courtesy: Dod/US Air Force]


Background on Lockheed Martin and the F-35

Lockheed Martin, which makes the F-35, and Canada have reached a deal for Canada to buy 88 F-35 fighter jets for the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF). The CF-18 Hornet, which has been used by the RCAF since its inception in 1982, will be retired in favor of the F-35. After a 12-year delay, the government finally agreed to purchase the F-35 fighter jets after reversing its initial decision to do so.

Overview of the deal between Canada and Lockheed Martin

The Canadian Ministry of National Defense made the announcement. It's estimated that Canada will spend about $15 billion USD on 88 F-35A Lightning II fighter jets. Even though the jets and engines are made by different companies, the total price does include "sustainment set-up and services for the aircraft, associated aircraft equipment, and the construction of modern fighter squadron facilities in Bagotville, Quebec, and Cold Lake, Alberta."

As part of the Future Fighter Capability Project, Canada will get rid of its fleet of CF-18 Hornet fighter planes and buy F-35s instead. The CF-18 Hornet evolved from the F/A-18A Hornet produced by Boeing. The first of Canada's 138 CF-18s went into service in 1982. Less than half of the original number of CF-18s are still in service, with only 63 aircraft listed in Flight International's World Air Forces Almanac.

In 2015, the current government, which is led by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, backed out of the deal because the bidding process wasn't fair and open. A new fighter was set to be selected in 2022, according to a 2018 announcement.

The contest to select a new fighter was doomed to fail from the start. Being a vast country with a lot of open water and a sparsely populated landmass, Canada has historically used fighter jets with two engines so that they could return home on one if one failed. The Swedish Gripen fighter, which uses a single engine, was therefore disadvantaged. Sweden's chances were hurt even more by the fact that it wasn't a member of NATO for most of the competition. Many people advocated for Canada to buy the French Rafale fighter jet instead of the CF-18, but the Rafale was not compatible with the CF-18's existing systems and weapons. 

The F/A-18E/F Super Hornet fighter, an improved variant of the CF-18, seemed like a no-brainer, but as the bidding process dragged on, it became clear that a plane with its roots in the 1970s had little chance of winning.

F/A-18E/F Super Hornet fighter
F/A-18E/F Super Hornet fighter

Even though it's a single-engine plane, nine NATO countries have chosen to fly the F-35. It is a huge plus that foreign air forces can work together with their domestic counterparts during times of conflict, sharing resources like spare parts and weapons. F-35 fighters from different air forces can collaborate more closely than ever before thanks to the F-35's ability to share data with other F-35s and friendly forces. Since the United States and Canada are both members of NORAD, the North American Air Defense Command, this is especially helpful.

Details of the Deal

Cost of the deal

As one of the first countries to join the international group that paid for the F-35 program, Canada gave $373 million to it. The Canadian government announced in 2010 that it would purchase 65 F-35s, which is less than half the size of the original CF-18 fleet.

Delivery timeline

Canadian officials have finally made a decision on whether or not to purchase the F-35, but it took them a little over a decade. There will be a total of 84 F-35As delivered to Canada between 2027 and 2032. The first four will arrive in 2026. With this, the 50-year service life of the last CF-18s will come to an end.

Benefits to Canada

Some positives have emerged despite the delay. Ottawa is increasing its plane purchase by 33 percent compared to its initial plan. Even though the F-35A isn't a direct replacement for the CF-18 fleet, its superior capabilities may make that unnecessary. As the F-35 program goes on, costs will go down, making the Canadian F-35s cheaper.

Lockheed Martin’s Response

Lockheed Martin’s plans for the F-35

Canada's original CF-18 fleet has served the country well, but it's time to upgrade. Unfortunately for NATO's Baltic Air Policing mission, Canada's CF-18s are now only considered "second-line fighters," meaning they aren't as cutting-edge as their allies' aircraft. Even though the original decision to buy the F-35 was bad because it was made without open competition, the 12-year delay has done a lot of damage to Canada's ability to defend itself and, possibly, to its reputation.

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