February 2022 marks 20 years since Canada joined the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) partnership. Globe and Mail Article
For all the many twists and turns since, there has been one constant positive, the contribution to Canada’s aerospace industry. The JSF program promised a revolutionary approach to manufacturing, lean assembly, low procurement costs, astonishing fighter capability and so much more. Over time, the program has faced unprecedented scrutiny from politicians, media and public, not just at home in the U.S. but internationally from customer nations. Watching the F-35 program has fostered an entire generation of arm-chair quarterbacks to snipe at every tidbit of JSF news. Yet the program has marched on. JSF started slow (not as was promised) and ran into many, many problems, like every new aircraft program in history. At some point, things picked up pace. The aircraft matured over the decade-long developmental testing and the jet started to gain a following, starting with the warriors who flew it every day. The most conservative estimate of the F-35 program would have missed the mark predicting where the aircraft numbers would be at this point in time, 20 years later. My own career path for F-35 was delayed year upon year as the program stumbled early on. However, this train is now heading down the track and won’t be stopped. The F-35 works…period.
What is really impressive is the depth and breadth of industrial work that was spread out to the partner nations. Canadian companies clearly had a head start in capturing choice business opportunities, a function of their capabilities and potential to spool-up to the high-pressure standards demanded for this aircraft. It certainly did not hurt Canadian companies to be so close to the U.S. border where the logistics trail is relatively short. Through the years, Canadian industry has maintained its preferential position as a JSF partner, especially interesting since Canada has yet to buy the jet.
There was a healthy aerospace industry in Canada before JSF but certainly not on the scale it is now. Building the most complex aerospace vehicle in history demanded a transformation of manufacturing standards required for every component in the F-35 to a level of precision not known before.
What Does F-35 Bring to Canadian Industry?
F-35 will generate 150,000 jobs over the lifetime of the program in Canada. That is high skillset, high tech, digital transformation work which spans the country. Already more than 200+ men and women in the Maritimes are employed supporting F-35 work bringing nearly $1B to its aerospace sector over the life of F-35. Jobs in Montreal at Heroux-Devtek and PCC Aerostructures, plus Pratt and Whitney Canada contribute to F-35. From Ottawa to Hamilton to Winnipeg to BC, Canadians contribute to this new generation of fighters, working now and for decades to come. The opportunities that come to the F-35 suppliers, tangent to this work but in large part due to the capabilities developed to support F-35, bring even more business to these companies.
$611M USD has been invested by the Canadian government into the F-35 program with $2.8B USD in contracts let thus far. That’s a very healthy ROI for the government to contribute to the aerospace work force, especially through the pandemic when work might have been interrupted or cancelled in any other major development program.
Digital transformation is required to keep Canada competitive into the future. As a nation, Canada has lagged except in this area of industry. F-35 has brought Canadian companies to the forefront of aerospace technology over the past 10+ years and will keep pushing them for years to come.
Forget the guaranteed offset contracts that would have resulted in building hubcaps and steering wheels to satisfy the ITB requirements. Canadian firms have captured the contracts, elevated their capabilities to maintain the standards demanded for the 5th Generation stealth fighter and will keep that work for years to come. At some point the story will be heard by the Canadian public of how strong the employment and industrial benefits have been as part of the F-35 program.
The “A Word”
Canadian industry has not been involved in an aerospace program of this magnitude since…. the Avro Arrow…hence the reference to the “A Word”. BTW…don’t worry…no one with any sense is talking about redesigning the Arrow…. The scale of this franchise program, 3000+ F-35s, built across decades, is extraordinary. The 5th Gen revolution of this stealth fighter brings enduring, generational work for those aerospace companies fortunate enough to earn their place in the F-35 program.
It would have been much easier for the F-35 industry partners had the development and testing gone smoothly and the program evolved quickly, as initially promised…we all know that did not go well. Over promised and under-delivered is the reality of the early days of F-35. Yet things turned around as much because everyone refused to give up and worked so hard to rectify / correct / redesign / accomplish the miracles needed to fix the problems and get the program and jet on a timeline that worked. Industry partners invested millions upon millions in infrastructure early on only to find out that the real work and payoff was going to take a lot longer to happen than anyone had predicted. Humility came late to F-35.
There were missteps but leadership from the U.S. government and Lockheed Martin helped save this program. Getting to that steady state level that businesses built their JSF model on years ago took so long. And it is almost here now, enduring work in Canada from Delta, British Columbia across the country to Lunenburg, Nova Scotia. The wait is not quite over yet; it will be a couple of months until Canada finally commits to buy the F-35 and stability comes to the Canadian aerospace industry.
This is not Socialism
Without the Liberal government commitment to the F-35, there is always a chance that another fighter could be selected, the ultimate longshot, the Swedish Saab Gripen, still in testing, built in small numbers but the PR darling of this fighter competition. If Canada ever did decide to select another fighter, F-35 work across the country would collapse and all the contracts would end as soon as the work could be sent overseas. The many other F-35 customer nations would love the choice, generational aerospace business that Canada has been hogging for so long. Would F-35 really take the business and contracts elsewhere? Ask Turkey and the near collapse of their aerospace industry when F-35 was cancelled by the U.S. government. The work in Turkey is gone and will not be returning. Picking the Gripen and rejecting the F-35 would have a result much like happened to Canadian aerospace with the Avro Arrow, a collapse of the aerospace industry that would take a generation to repair…sorry, the “A Word” again.
Let’s be clear, there is no free lunch. To take a passage from my friend Tom Burbage, the architect of so much of this program and former Lockheed Martin F-35 Program General Manager:
“Canada was the first ally to join the F-35 program in February of 2002. Implicit in the economic development and technology transfer commitment on the part of the F-35 industry team was an expected commitment on the part of the Government to buy the F-35. I led the search for Canadian businesses that wanted to receive the economic benefits of the F-35 program. Nearly twenty years later, with Billions in industrial contracts but no commitment to procurement, one must question the real original intent of joining the program. Canada, our closest ally, is the only participating partner country to fail to follow through in this commitment.”
Is there really an alternative to the F-35 as Canada’s next fighter? With the Boeing Super Hornet excluded, some still think that the diminutive fighter, the Swedish Gripen, could serve Canada’s needs. As time rolls on, Canadians are getting more educated on the Saab Gripen and less enthused about it as they learn that the marketing hype is just that, hype. The 4th Gen fighter cannot match what F-35 brings to Canada for sovereignty protection or the interoperability needed for NATO support. It is the last, best flip phone in a word of iPhones if you recall my blog and analogy published month ago.
What Have We Missed Out On?
The F-35 procurement delay as prevented Canadian firms from bidding on sustainment work for F-35s, not just those that would have come to Canada but also the U.S. and worldwide fleet. The almost 2500 F-35s for the American services will outgrow the capacity that is available in the U.S. to maintain and overhaul those jets over time. Canadian MRO facilities are perfectly situated to win some of those support contracts that will be offered to help offset the capacity limits of American depots. Montreal-based companies like CAE and L3 MAS want their turn to bid on sustainment work, once Canada commits. The offset value of the near $19B F-35 procurement contract will certainly be exceeded over time by all the work that will be done in Canada.
Where would Canadian aerospace business be if Alan Williams (remember that name?) and the Liberal government had not taken the bold step to commit to the JSF program early on? 2 decades later, Canadians would be wondering how our aerospace sector was left out in the cold yet again. Instead, the nearly 100 firms that have contributed to F-35 have benefited enormously.
Now, if we could only get an announcement on the F-35 being selected so that everyone could get on to the business of building more jets.
Great blog on the 20th Anniversary. Brings back great memories of those early days in the F-35 program and the decision-making around the NDHQ tables in Ottawa in 2002. I was the Chief of the Defence Staff at the time and fully supported the recommendation by Alan Williams to commit to the JSF development program. I remain convinced that it was the right thing to do, for the many reasons you have highlighted. And Canada and the Canadian Armed Forces/RCAF will benefit immensely from a decision to purchase the F-35. Look forward to a Government decision, which is long overdue. RRH
Billie, I would like to see the facts on which particular province reaps the rewards of the JSF manufacturing program. We all know the answer, but it needs daylighting. And how much is Gripen offering Quebec?
The capability of the F-35 is irrelevant to Trudeau, who will ultimately make the new fighter decision, if he is still around. He will take his orders from his Quebec cronies who will receive the benefits of the new fighter. JT is after all the Prime Minister of Quebec.
Gripen sees the chink in the F-35 armor, despite its VLO feature. And that is buying off Quebec. That is the only reason Gripen is still a contender.
I know Gripen was smart to project jobs in the Maritimes and Quebec. However the footprint for F-35 in both regions is already strong, today and in the years to come. It will be hard to justify picking Saab when the IMP / Gripen deal would only hire 600 employees for the assembly and approx. 6000 over the lifetime of the program; not a lot and not enough to beat the F-35 contribution. Any way you look at the math, assembly for 88 jets does not trump contributing to 3000+ over the decades of build for F-35 or the years afterwards sustaining that worldwide fleet. I have a real sense that the wind has gone out of the sails for Gripen as more and more people dig into that story. F-35 is too compelling to ignore in this discussion of jobs and economic impact.
Excellent reporting Billie. Let’s hope that the people who hold sway in the decision making process are looking at the facts as layed out here and in your other blog posts and have quality briefing materials at hand because when compared to the F-35 the Gripen is clearly a distant second choice particularly for Canada which will fly them for the next 40+ years.
The Gripen fan club always point to “building” it here when in reality they would just be assembling sub components supplied by Saab and Embraer. Hardly innovative or cost effective for a total run of 88 airframes. I don’t see the likelihood of Gripen production ever coming vaguely close to 500 airframes. How much will it cost to set up assembly facilities in Canada and who will bear that cost?
The whole “Gripen is born in the arctic and is superior to the F-35 in cold weather ops” claim needs to be dealt with as well. The 48 aircraft in Alaska seem to be doing very well. As for operating from roads ……. when have our Hornets ever done that?
Another item that needs to be clarified is the AAR capability. I recently read the Statement of Requirements for the next AAR fleet which at present only the A330 MRTT can meet. It states that the future aircraft must be interoperable and be able to provide both probe and boom refuelling in the same flight. So, no modification to the F-35A is necessary.
Looking forward to what will transpire over the next few months. Hopefully Justin and company will make the intelligent choice.
3 issues to consider:
Assembly of a new fighter in Canada is not manufacturing. While it is not Lego, it is certainly like Ikea. Once that portion of the 88 jets are assembled, there may or may not be follow-on aircraft if Saab sold Gripen E to other markets. Logically though, once the last aircraft is assembled, the production line would be shut down and the jobs atrophied. There certainly is not a worldwide market for 500 Gripen E that would suggest an assembly line continuing for decades.
NO modern fighter is made for the arctic and no fighter lands on unimproved runways of any kind. Gripens and Finnish Hornets land on highway dispersed runways, which are 4-5 lane highways or 2+ lane stretches of roads. Each of those strips has infrastructure of approach aids, communications, taxiways off the highway stretches, etc. to accommodate their infrequent use. In Finland, these highway runways are exercised every year. In Sweden, that is not the case and Swedish fighters often use the Finnish landing strips to practice on. To suggest that any jet can land on any straight stretch of road is complete BS. That has never been the case and never will be.
As for extreme cold, no fighter likes being cold soaked to -30 or colder and none of them do well when trying to start them up from those conditions. Can an F-35, Gripen, Super Hornet or legacy Hornet start in extreme cold? Of course they can but if we want our Canadian legacy Hornets to run mission after mission, we will put them in a hangar overnight and try not to leave them out in the cold. If we have a choice to put our trucks in a garage overnight or leave them out in the cold, which do we choose? Finally, the 54 F-35s operating our of Fairbanks, Alaska should be enough evidence that F-35 can manage the cold…54 jets operating 12 months of the year in an environment colder than Cold Lake or Bagotville.
The tanker issue is moot. The KC-46, recently announced LMXT (derivative of MRTT) will have both boom and baskets. Any RCAF tanker will need to support our allies and the RCAF fleet which mean accommodating both types of AAR.
Hope that helps.
Hi Billie. Thanks for taking the time to keep us updated on the F-35 Saga. As the personification of the inability of the Canadian male to commit to a relationship, Trudeau will never commit to the F-35. Hopefully, somebody will convince the NDP that they have hitched their team to the wobbly wagon of a stupid and disloyal idealogue and bring this shameful period in Canada’s history to an end. What we have here is a convincing argument for retroactive birth control.
Permit me to step back in our aviation history and talk briefly about the “A Word”. The Avro Arrow and the Iroquois engine were designed and produced almost completely in Canada by Canadians. The bits and pieces were almost 95% made in Canada. a pretty short and secure supply chain. Canada at that time, 1958 as I recall, was the world leader in magnesium metallurgy. This was shown again when the Starfighter’s Cadillac Valve was manufactured by Canadian engineers. Each valve was said to have cost as much as a Cadillac. The Arrow was the first fly-by-wire fighter, using analog computer technology (all that was available at that time). Arrow 201 went supersonic, achieving Mach 1.98 on its 3rd. flight test. Unheard of in any flight test program before or since. 202 went Super on its 2nd flight and 203 went Super on its 1st. flight. This speaks of incredible confidence in the design and construction of the Arrow and the Iroquois engine. Today’s fight testing won’t even try retracting the landing gear on the 1st. flight. I believe the Arrow Story illustrates that Canadians are our own worst enemies of getting very much done in aviation. Many of us that were lucky enough to be chosen to fly the CF-104 Starfighter believe we may well have flown the Arrow. One can only dream of what 64 years of research and development since the Arrow’s untimely demise could have meant to the Canadian Aerospace industry.
For interest check out these links.
If you receive this email I believe that if you forward it to yourself and then click immediately after the last character of the links, it will change to blue and become a hyperlink. If not then paste the link into the URL line of a new email to yourself.
I can’t help it, I’m an Arrowhead.
cheers, Billy Best
I know you will appreciate my tongue in cheek reference to the A Word. So many civilians claimed that Canada should build a new version of the Arrow for the next fighter. We all know that ship has sailed. And we all know someone who worked on it or saw it fly or was on the shop floor the day it was cancelled. Part of our aviation history that never needs to be repeated.
Sorry to burst your bubble but I don’t believe that the Arrow actually flew with the Iroquois engines. Taxied yes but sadly got called back. The test pilot stated that this was his worst mistake. He should have taken off. He never flew again. A true airmen.
I have been wrong many times but my understanding is that was the case.
If we don’t acquire the F-35 I trust that all our senior Air Force officers resign.
Thanks for the additional details and for putting these into a proper context.
If the government’s fact sheet for the FFCP is to be believed then 60% of comparison is given to performance, 20% to cost and the final 20% to industrial offsets. Considering the number of jets produced by each manufacturer 3000+ vs 200 the F-35 looks to be the clear winner. What concerns me is the statement “The process is being reviewed by both an independent fairness monitor and an independent third party reviewer”. Who are they? What are their credentials? Do they have ties to the Liberal party or Quebec interests? This should be disclosed. Excuse me if I don’t put a lot of faith in this government’s claims of transparency or ethical decisions. (SNC Lavalin, WE charity etc).
Ken – I can’t answer about the fairness monitor; it is a process that is uniquely Canadian and beyond my experience with the competition. Let’s hope sanity prevails.
If, the Gripen was selected as the winner of the Canadian Fighter Competition. Could Lockheed Martin contest the results???
First, there will be no protesting the selection of the winner.
Second, Saab was never really a contender for this competition, Boeing was. Saab was not disqualified as Boeing was. That means that they did not fail out. That does not mean that anyone in the procurement process actually suggested that their aircraft or offering was what is needed for Canada. I think far too many people took the elimination of Boeing as an endorsement for the Gripen, which was not the case.
Do we have a firm time frame for the selection of the Canadian Fighter Competition?
Is the requirement still for “88” New Fighters?
What are your thoughts on the new Adaptive Cycle Engines? (GE XA100 and P&W XA101) Could either be an option for Canada?
88 jets. The government will not change that number. Expect an announcement soon based on the timeline promised.
Adaptive engine? That is years off since no version of that engine has been installed, tested or flown in an F-35. Don’t expect to see it for 5+ years.
What’s your opinion on a future powerplant for the F-35? Would you stick with an upgraded F135 or one of the Adaptive Cycle Engines? Assuming the latter becomes an option?
The Adaptive Cycle Engines of GE or PW have yet to fly. They are many years from being mature and ready to be put in jets and be operational. The RCAF has no need for them in the procurement discussion for F-35. Someday, in a midlife update in 20 years perhaps there will be impetus to change engines. I have a lot of time with the F-135…the most powerful fighter engine ever built. I would not change a thing about it.
Re-Engining the F-35: How GE’s AETP Could Boost Speed, Payload, and Range….https://www.airforcemag.com/re-engining-f-35-ge-aetp-boost-speed-payload-range/
The problem is with a new engine project is price. The price of the F135 engine from 2008 to 2019 dropped by a whopping HALF. That is a huge number. And you get that due to the larger and “big” production runs of the F35. If they wnat to pick ta new engine? You going o be right back to square one – and DOUBLE the cost of of each engine that goes into the F35.
someone has to pay for that new engine, and until solid production numbers occur, then the cost per engine will be high. The F135 engine will over time get incremental upgrades, and do so at VERY little cost. As for some suggesting the F35 needs more power?
The F35 has a better power to weight rating then Rafale, F16, and Gripen.
Now, the F35 having a better power to weight then the Gripen – not a surprise. But better then F16 or duel engine Rafales MOST CERTAINY was a surprise.
You get these table: (higher = better)
payload Rafale F35 F16 Gripen
0 1.4137 1.3984 1.4784 1.2617
700 1.3737 1.3672 1.4284 1.2130
2500 1.2806 1.2932 1.3141 1.1035
3500 1.2341 1.2555 1.2581 1.0508
3750 1.2230 1.2464 1.2449 1.0384
5000 1.1704 1.2028 1.1826 0.9805
6000 1.1314 1.1701 1.1371 0.9387
7000 1.0950 1.1391 1.0950 0.9003
7500 1.0777 1.1242 1.0751 0.8822
9125 1.0249 1.0784 1.0151 0.8283
10362 0.9880 1.0459 0.9737 0.7914
12000 0.9431 1.0058 0.9239 0.7474
13500 0.9055 0.9718 0.8825 0.7111
15000 0.8707 0.9399 0.8447 0.6782
18250 0.8038 0.8776 0.7729 0.6165
20900 0.7564 0.8325 0.7228 0.5739
In fact, the Gripen with JUST 5,000 lbs? Total aircraft weight now exceeds engine thrust (and thus it cannot fly straight up on engine power).
The F16 has to burn fuel down to a rather low 3,500 lbs to match the T/W of F35
The duel engine Rafale fairs even worse, down to a bone dry 700lbs
The Gripen? Starting out with 0 payloads, it never matches the F16, Rafale, let alone the F35.
The above table shows that the F35 is the ONLY fighter say with 10,000 lbs payload (fuel and/or weapons – don’t change this), can fly straight up (remains over 1:1 T/W). In fact, WITH 11k, or even 12 k it also remains over 1:1
I not really sure how wise it would be for us to choose the Gripen with a small 7,500 lbs fuel tank compared to the F35 at 18,500 lbs. How does that work for us in Canada?
As for the cost of the Adaptive Cycle Engine. It is being developed for the NGAD (6th Generation Fighters) in addition to the F-35. So, you need to factor that into the equation……
F135 ENHANCED ENGINE PACKAGE https://prattwhitney.com/products-and-services/products/military-engines/F135/F135-ENHANCED-ENGINE-PACKAGES?gclid=Cj0KCQiAmKiQBhClARIsAKtSj-l3c-NnB-wWMJYptnECBM0D3Nnxpsu2WhpqKkwEoxqC898Fmew9MG4aAsOJEALw_wcB&fbclid=IwAR3LZNhhIbPvK4jLCFXyRnULqtBmuPMEr3IPd501CJ4j425bcQXaI2WwM2Q
Is the S400 a serious threat to the F-35? If, not how will the Lightning II maintain its advantage going forward??? (S500?)
If it was, Israel would not be flying F-35s into Syria…
Billie- Do you think the ongoing conflict (war) in Ukraine. Will spur on the selection of the F-35 for the Canadian Fighter Competition?
BTW- Germany just announced a very big increase in defense spending. Which, will push them over 2% of GDP. With the F-35 being high on their list to replace their retiring Tornados. https://www.defensenews.com/global/europe/2022/02/27/scholz-proposes-100-billion-euro-defense-fund-vows-to-exceed-nato-spending-goal/?fbclid=IwAR0Eehvpco5ydtF8Qbdla6LXgCCzvBVJEPhUfACgDRKq0TLTninrAdvEF9c