The news of the F-35 selection in Canada came and died off in a day and a half, not even lasting through 2 news cycles. I bet no one would have predicted the lack of staying power of a story mired in controversy for the past 20 years. Curiously, we saw the same pattern with journalists in the Netherlands, Denmark, Australia and so on. Once a government commits to the jet, the journalists wander off in search of the next storyline.
But not a country to truly commit to anything wholeheartedly, in the ‘Land of Fence Sitters’, the Canadian announcement introduced doubt as the two federal ministers stated that final negotiations would be needed and if the F-35 deal could not be sealed, then the second competitor would be approached to negotiate with. It is hard to imagine that anyone would think that this was not a done deal and that this process was any different from any other major contract that is managed between governments. Yet the federal ministers suggested just that. Canada is a partner nation in the F-35 enterprise. As a partner, Canada will pay the same price as the US government and all other partner nations for the F-35s that it procures. No one is negotiating a better deal on behalf of Canada. Did someone think that the Canadian government could ignore their signed F-35 partnership agreement and strong arm the US government? And by the way, the next steps involve government to government execution of the arrangement, not with Lockheed Martin as most think.
Does anyone on God’s green earth think that after 20 years of this Canada F-35 saga, spending millions upon millions of dollars and dedicating enormous manpower, establishing all the manufacturing subcontractors for the F-35 Enterprise, Lockheed Martin and the US government won’t do everything in their power to complete the deal for Canada’s next fighter?
This is not F-35’s first rodeo!
In every negotiation, at least in the 20+ years of my experience across so many different campaigns and contracts, virtually none have fallen apart after the official selection was made. It is logical that a decision has to be formalized, specifics like when the aircraft will be built for Canada in the production cycle, the delivery schedule of jets, what spare parts will be needed and where will they be sent to, when where and how many pilots will be sent to training, the cyber security requirements needed before those jets arrive in Canada and everything related to costs and payments. The list goes on and on, is exhaustive and extremely complex. While the business development team (read: marketers in suits) got the deal done and won the competition, there is another team whose job it is to complete this deal and ensure that everything required is dealt with according to the contracts that will be signed. Not rocket science but certainly some complex financing and logistics.
Having said all of that, there is nothing new in this F-35 Canada deal from any other military contract for any other piece of hardware ever purchased by Canada or ever sold by the US government or ever built by Lockheed Martin. Why in heaven’s name couldn’t the ministers announce that F-35 won the competition in every category and that it would be Canada’s future fighter, then explain that it would take some months to finalize the contracts and details but that they hoped to be complete by the end of 2022. Instead, in true Canadian fashion, they created a narrative that does not exist that somehow, for some reason, this might not work out.
Imagine if the Prime Minister went back to Parliament to announce that Canada, as the only country in the entire western world and an original partner of the F-35 program, could not agree on the terms to buy the F-35 based on a partnership that Canada had entered 20 years ago. Sorry, but there is not a politician in the world who would survive the backlash that would follow such an amateur move. And it won’t happen in Canada.
After 20 years as a partner in the F-35 program, Canadian industry can finally compete for follow on contracts. The opportunities are significant for industry looking for future maintenance work, not just in Canada but also in the US where there will be 2500ish F-35s built for the US services. There are engine overhaul contracts which certainly cannot be satisfied by the maintenance facilities in the US. To date, Canadian industry has been excluded from competing for sustainment work, but now Canadian companies can line up to chase the lucrative and substantial contracts that will be let over the coming years. Don’t forget all the in-country infrastructure and support contracts that will be let in the near future; one in a lifetime opportunity for many companies across the nation.
For some time, the RCAF personnel have been treated like the red-headed stepchildren of the F-35 program, courtesy of the back-stepping of the government and the reneging on the F-35 promises. That has now ended, and personnel can once again re-focus on how to integrate the jet and its capabilities into the Canadian Armed Forces structure. F-35 will lead the transformation of the CAF into the 21st century (albeit a little late) and RCAF men and women now have the leash to begin that task.
LM spent so much money and effort since 2015 when Canada backed away from the program to regain its position, compete and win the competition. All that level of effort of hundreds of personnel, millions upon millions of dollars invested was not going to go wasted. F-35 has never lost a competition and Canada was not going to be the country to break that streak. It might not have been the best of campaign wins, but a win is a win. What this decision brings to LM and F-35 is the stability of Canadian industry as suppliers to the program. The lingering doubt from the Canada saga always prompted ‘what it’ conversations if Canada selected a different jet. The task would have been, as was done when Turkey was thrown out of the program, to find new suppliers, terminate existing contracts, sign new ones, risking interruptions in the supply chain as work was moved from Canadian suppliers to eager companies in other countries. That is all behind us now. Work will stay in Canada and undoubtedly grow as Canadian industry has proven itself keen and highly competent suppliers to F-35 over the many years. You could hear the sighs of relief from the Canadian F-35 industry team when the decision was announced on 28 March.
There is a better chance of the Toronto Maple Leafs winning the Stanley Cup than the F-35 deal falling apart.
BTW..we all know that 1967 was the last time…and, full disclosure, I am a life long Habs fan.
There’s a lot of prep work to be done. Gone are the days of flying the ‘not-very-sophisticated’ 4th Gen CF-18 and entering the spy plane 5th Gen F-35 world. As in every country that has adopted F-35 to date, dealing with the cyber requirements to house the F-35 will eclipse anything that the RCAF has ever imagined. Everyone with anything to do with this jet will need the most extensive background checks of their lives. I know many in uniform understand the transformation that is coming and are scrambling to get ahead of this bow wave. Those nice Canadians will have to get serious about cyber security for the first time in their lives.
Let the professionals get on with their jobs of readying for the F-35 and getting the RCAF up to speed. I say with confidence that the recruiting and retention problem of the RCAF fighter force which could not get pilots to come fly 40-year-old planes just ended. Air Canada and WestJet will always be an attractive avenue for experienced pilots who are tired of living in Cold Lake, Alberta or Bagotville, Quebec but the chance to fly a spaceship, to be part of the most lethal fighter ever built and fly along side NATO partners doing the most cosmic fighter pilot flying ever will be pretty intriguing for fighter pilots; they will think long and hard about giving up a chance to fly this new jet all for a poorly paid right seat with Air Canada or WestJet.
Clean up the talking points for the federal ministers moving forward. Take the muzzles off the RCAF leadership and fighter pilot experts so that they can explain to Canadians what this fighter will mean for arctic sovereignty and NORAD, support of NATO operations and for the survivability of the RCAF men and women who will fly the F-35 for the next 40 years.
Big steps to come. Please stop the doubting by the journalists and ‘expert’ commentators; this isn’t amateur hour anymore.
This is a done deal…move on…period.