The Weekly Wire: For Your Situational Awareness 10.10.19

 In Weekly Wire
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The Status of the Canadian Fighter Jet Competition

Jessica Di Paolo, Senior Market Analyst

In early September 2019, Airbus became the second defense firm to pull its submission, the Eurofighter Typhoon, from Canada’s fighter jet competition.

Dassault was the first of the five firms bidding on the fighter aircraft to pull out of the competition in late 2018. This now leaves Lockheed Martin, Boeing, and Saab vying for Canada’s fighter replacement, though Saab is undecided about remaining in the competition.

Canada’s Conservative government first announced its intentions to replace the CF-18s in 2010, selecting Lockheed Martin’s F-35 as its preferred choice, though the cost of the F-35 ignited controversy.

After the current Liberal government came to power following Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s election, Canada announced that it would move forward with relaunching the fighter jet competition beginning in 2017.

After much delay and increased pressure to find a new combat aircraft, Canada is expecting to award the contract by 2022.

Both Dassault and Airbus cited the technical requirement to integrate the aircraft into the Five Eyes intelligence architecture as the main reason for dropping out of the fighter competition.

For non-US fighter jets, this poses a challenge, while the Super Hornet and F-35 already meet this requirement.

It’s unclear if Saab has a plan to integrate the Gripen into US-Canadian intelligence architecture but given that both Airbus and Dassault pulled out due to the costly requirements to integrate their aircraft, it’s likely Saab might follow suit.

For the three remaining defense firms, final bids for the competition are due in 2020. Canada implemented a temporary stopgap measure to alleviate the pressure of finding a new fighter jet by purchasing secondhand F/A-18s from Australia in 2017, but further delay to the competition will result in a capability gap for the Royal Canadian Air Force.

As the deadline for final bids draws nearer, it is looking increasingly likely that this will be a showdown between Boeing’s F/A-18 and Lockheed Martin’s F-35.

Netherlands

The Netherlands has announced that it plans to buy an additional nine F-35As, augmenting its existing buy of 34 aircraft.

The planned $1.1 billion procurement is part of an effort by the Dutch Air Force to “lay the foundation” for a third F-35 squadron that would allow the country to fully commit four F-35s to NATO air patrols and operations, while still maintaining sufficient aircraft at home bases to allow the Dutch Air Force the ability to consistently rotate aircraft and pilots through that mission, core airspace defense operations, training requirements, and required maintenance downtime.

The purchase of the aircraft has already been approved in the Dutch Parliament, and the payment has already been included in the Netherland’s defense spending report to NATO.

While no timeline for delivery has been announced, Avascent’s analysis of statements surrounding the configuration of the aircraft indicate that these aircraft will likely be fielded with the “Tech Refresh 3” package that includes a new integrated core processor, panoramic cockpit displays, and enhanced memory units.

As the first of the aircraft are due to be delivered with Lot 15 in 2023 and the Netherlands was required to submit its official request by the end of the year, Avascent deems it likely that these aircraft are part of the Lot 15 order that will be negotiated in 2020, and see US authorization in 2021 and delivery in 2023.

They will take the place of the approximately 10 Turkish aircraft that were to be delivered in 2023. The additional six aircraft to round out the third squadron are likely to be part of a future follow-on order.

South Korea

South Korea will launch the next phase of its F-X fighter procurement project in 2021, which will have a budget of about $3.34 billion. This follows F-X Phase 3, which resulted in the procurement of 40 F-35As.

The South Korean Air Force originally wanted to buy 60 F-35As, but this upcoming phase of the F-X is speculated to fulfill the 20 remaining aircraft.

The Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) has said that no decisions have been made yet and that requirements will be reviewed first.

South Korea is also planning to build a light aircraft carrier that can accommodate the F-35B as well as landing craft. The ship should be ready by the 2030s, making it possible that the new F-X phase will include the F-35B. DAPA plans to carry out the procurement project from 2021 to 2025.

It’s unclear if DAPA means that it wants to have deliveries completed by 2025, or to have a selection by 2025. New fighters are needed in order to replace an aging 70 F-4s and 190 F-5s that are facing obsolescence issues and increasingly difficult maintenance.

F-35 and FA-50 deliveries to date have not been enough to replace the F-4 and F-5 fleets. Complete replacement will not occur until the KF-X is introduced in 2026, provided that the project stays on schedule.

Thailand

On October 7, the Royal Thai Air Force (RTAF) denied rumors that it will try to purchase the F-35 fighter aircraft. According to the RTAF, the Thai military would require input on the software in their next fighter purchase, which Lockheed Martin is not allowing with the F-35.

The need to participate in the software development side of future defense purchases is part of Thailand’s Concept of Project Requirements – a new policy that states that Thailand will only buy new strategic hardware if it can be a part of the software development process.

The goal of the policy is to improve the transfer of technical expertise for the Thai military, and it is expected to be fully rolled out over the next three to five years.

Currently, the RTAF has a fleet of 103 F-16s, but intends to start purchasing replacements sometime in the near term.

However, the RTAF will not send out a formal request for bids until it has had the opportunity to review how the Concept of Project Requirements policy will affect that procurement.

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