F-35 stealth fighter, Super Hornet top list of potential new fighters for Canada

There are five potential replacements for Canada's aging CF-18 fleet. Here's a closer look at what's known about the contenders.

Federal government hopes replacement aircraft will be delivered in 2025

An F-35 jet sits on the tarmac at Hill Air Force Base, in northern Utah. The F-35 continues to face some developmental challenges and questions about cost, but a number of allies are already receiving it. (Rick Bowmer/Canadian Press)

There are five potential replacements for Canada's aging CF-18 fleet. Here's a closer look at what's known about the contenders:

F-35 — Lockheed Martin, U.S.

Largely overlooked in Tuesday's news about a new competition to find a CF-18 replacement was confirmation that the F-35 is back in the running. The move represents the latest twist in the stealth fighter's history in Canada, which included a promise by the previous Conservative government to buy it in 2010 and Justin Trudeau's promise in 2015 to do precisely the opposite. The F-35 continues to face some developmental challenges and questions about cost, but a number of allies are already receiving it. For all those reasons and more, the stealth fighter can again be considered a front-runner.

Super Hornet — Boeing, U.S.

A U.S. naval air crew walks the flight line in front of a squadron of Super Hornet fighters at Naval Air Station Oceana , Virginia on Jan. 26, 2017. Canada had planned to buy 18 "interim" Super Hornets until Boeing launched a trade complaint against Canadian rival Bombardier. (Murray Brewster/CBC)

The Super Hornet is a newer, larger and much more modern variant of the CF-18s that Canada operates, and is primarily used by the U.S. Navy and Australia. It was first flown in the 1990s; proponents note that, unlike the F-35, it has a proven track record. That appeared to sell the Liberal government, which planned to buy "interim" 18 Super Hornets until Boeing launched a trade complaint against Canadian rival Bombardier. Now, because of its older technology and uncertain production future, and the aforementioned trade dispute, the Super Hornet could be in for a tough battle in what promises to be a lengthy competition.

Typhoon — Eurofighter, European consortium

Two German Eurofighter Typhoon fighter jets fly over Ovda airbase near Eilat, southern Israel during the 2017 Blue Flag exercise. The jet has been operated by Germany, Spain, Italy, the U.K. and several Middle Eastern countries. (Ariel Schalit/The Associated Press)

The Typhoon has largely flown under the radar, but is built by a consortium of European companies that includes Airbus, which recently offered to buy a majority stake in Bombardier's C-Series passenger jets. It's too early to tell whether that will be an advantage, but it can't hurt. Still, the Typhoon, which is operated by Germany, Spain, Italy, the U.K. and several Middle Eastern countries, doesn't have a long track record.

Rafale — Dassault, France

A mechanic stands next to a Rafale fighter jets on France's Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier, used in the U.S.-led operation against Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq in the eastern Mediterranean Sea, Friday, Dec. 9, 2016. Dassault's main pitch is offering to transfer intellectual property and create manufacturing jobs in Canada. (The Associated Press)

The Rafale has been used by the French military since the mid-2000s, and was recently sold to India, Egypt and Qatar. The aircraft has flown missions in Afghanistan, Libya, Mali, Iraq and Syria. Dassault's main pitch is offering to transfer intellectual property and create manufacturing jobs in Canada. But dissenters have questioned the Rafale's compatibility with North America's air defence system, Norad, as well as its cost.

Gripen — Saab, Sweden

Gripen, a Swedish fighter aircraft, performs on the second day of Aero India 2017 at Yelahanka air base in Bangalore, India, Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2017. There are questions about its compatibility with Norad. (The Associated Press)

The Gripen was built almost entirely in Sweden and is likely the dark horse in a competition to replace the CF-18s. The aircraft does not have a long operational history and is not widely used outside of Sweden, but is said to be relatively inexpensive to operate. Like with the Rafale, there are questions about compatibility with Norad.