Canadian Manufacturing

Make-or-break moment for Super Hornet purchase has Boeing rivals ready to pounce

The results of a U.S. probe into whether Bombardier sold its CSeries passenger jets at an unfairly low price with help from federal subsidies will likely weigh heavily on the Liberal's decision to purchase Boeing's fighters


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Lockheed Martin, which makes the F-35 fighter, has offered Canada the new stealth fighter for the same price and on the same timeline as Boeing’s Super Hornets

OTTAWA—Defence officials and fighter-jet makers have circled a date in late September as the make-or-break moment for the Liberal government’s plan to buy interim Super Hornets fighter jets from U.S. firm Boeing.

The purchase has been largely in limbo since the Liberals threatened to cancel the planned purchase in May because of Boeing’s trade dispute with Canadian aerospace company Bombardier.

Industry sources say there has been no contact between Boeing and the government for several months, and most now believe any purchase will be contingent on what happens on Sept. 25.

That is when the U.S. Commerce Department will present the findings of its investigation into whether Bombardier sold its CSeries passenger jets at an unfairly low price with help from federal subsidies.

A guilty finding could result in fines or tariffs being imposed on Bombardier, but could also prompt the Liberal government, which has criticized the investigation, to pull the plug on any deal with Boeing.

Some of Boeing’s rivals are already positioning themselves to pounce if the government does back away from buying Super Hornets, and begins looking for other options.

The president of defence giant Lockheed Martin, Marillyn Hewson, recently wrote to several Liberal cabinet ministers promising a good price and quick delivery of its F-35 stealth fighters.

“We respectfully request the government of Canada consider the F-35 aircraft that it can acquire for the same price and within the same schedule as (a Super Hornet),” Hewson wrote.

Several other fighter-jet makers have made similar pitches in recent months.

While the government has so far refused to offer any formal response to Boeing’s rivals, it has also left the door wide open should it decide to head in a different direction.

“We continue to explore many options to provide an interim solution to supplement the CF-18s,” said Mary-Rose Brown, a spokeswoman for Jim Carr, the acting public procurement minister.

“We have not yet made a decision. Discussions must demonstrate that the interim fleet is appropriately capable and can be obtained at a cost, schedule, and economic value that are acceptable to Canadians.”

Work on a potential purchase of interim Super Hornets hasn’t ground to a complete halt, despite the lack of contact between Boeing and the government.

Any sale of Super Hornets would actually go through the U.S. government, which has been collecting information from Boeing about how much the planes would cost and when they could be delivered.

But while American officials were expected to provide that information to their Canadian counterparts by the end of next week, sources say that has been delayed until late September or early October.

Neither Brown nor a U.S. State Department spokeswoman would not comment on the delay Friday.

The Trudeau government announced in November its plan to purchase the planes to temporarily fill a critical shortage of fighter jets until a full competition to replace Canada’s aging CF-18s.

The government said at the time that the Super Hornet was the only aircraft able to meet its immediate requirements, including being a mature design compatible with U.S. fighters.

Many defence experts, including 13 retired air force commanders, have criticized the Liberals’ plan to purchase interim Super Hornets and called for an immediate competition to replace the CF-18s.


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