Politics

Boeing renews its public pitch to replace Canada's CF-18 fleet

One of the companies bidding to sell Canada a new fleet of fighter jets made a public pitch today highlighting its long-standing, cross-country economic relationships and history of delivering high-paying aerospace jobs.
A Boeing F-18 Super Hornet performs during a demonstration flight in Le Bourget, north of Paris, June 18, 2007. (Remy de la Mauviniere/Associated Press)

One of the companies bidding to sell Canada a new fleet of fighter jets made a public pitch today highlighting its long-standing, cross-country economic relationships and history of delivering high-paying aerospace jobs.

The presentation by Boeing executives and an independent research firm arrives against a background of a pandemic-ravaged economy and a looming federal deadline to submit bids to replace the air force's aging CF-18 fleet.

The aerospace giant, headquartered in Chicago, Ill., is one of three companies that will hand in their final submissions at the end of July with the aim of delivering new jets by 2025.

The other two are Lockheed Martin — with its F-35 stealth jet — and Saab, which will offer up the latest version of its Gripen fighter.

A U.S. F-35A fighter jet prepares to land at Chungju Air Base in Chungju, South Korea, March 29, 2019. (Kang Jong-min/The Associated Press)

Boeing plans to pitch its Super Hornet fighter. The most up-to-date version of the jet, known as the Block 3, was delivered recently to the U.S. Navy for use on aircraft carriers.

In its presentation, the company estimates the value of its direct economic activity in Canada — both commercial and defence — at $2.3 billion, resulting in 11,000 jobs across the country. The independent report estimates that when indirect spending is taken into account, the U.S. multinational contributes $5.3 billion and 20,700 jobs to Canada's economy.

Boeing's decision to make its case publicly is significant in part because federal finances are reeling under the weight of an anticipated $252 billion deficit and staggering levels of unemployment brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Defence spending tends to suffer whenever federal governments — regardless of their political stripes — grapple with high deficits.

There has been bad blood between the Liberal government and Boeing ever since the U.S. company led the charge against Quebec aerospace manufacturer Bombardier in a trade complaint over passenger jets. The disagreement led to the federal government cancelling a planned sole-source order for a handful of Super Hornets as an interim arrangement while the replacement competition continued.

The U.S. Navy, one of Boeing's biggest customers for fighter jets, recently said it wanted to begin focusing on a replacement for the Super Hornet, which was designed and entered service in the early 2000s.

Jim Barnes, a senior Boeing executive, told a conference call of reporters on Thursday that there is no planned retirement date for the Super Hornet. He claimed the warplane offers the most economical solution for Canada in terms of the cost of flying and operating fighter aircraft.

He said he foresaw the fighter being in service with the U.S. Navy for "decades to come."

The company's argument was recently given a boost when Germany decided to buy 45 Super Hornets as a replacement for its Tornado fighters.

The deadline for final submissions in Canada's competition is now July 31, after it was pushed back on at least two occasions.

Barnes said Boeing is ready to submit and will meet the deadline. He acknowledged the company asked for the latest extension because of the pandemic.

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