Canada is looking to buy up to 16 advanced military surveillance aircraft and has formally requested information and an offer from the U.S. government, the federal procurement department said Monday.
The Department of National Defence (DND) and the Royal Canadian Air Force say they have concluded that the Boeing-built P-8A Poseidon is the only aircraft that meets the military’s patrol, intelligence, surveillance and anti-submarine needs.
A statement issued late Monday by Public Services and Procurement Canada said the letter sent to the U.S. State Department, which determines whether a foreign military sale will go ahead, does not mean the deal is done.
“The final decision will be based on the capability offered, availability, pricing and benefits to Canadian industry,” the department said.
The plan to buy new surveillance aircraft was articulated in the Liberal government’s 2017 defence policy. It acquired new urgency last year when Boeing warned the Canadian government that its P-8 Poseidon production line in the U.S. could be shut down by 2025 if additional orders weren’t placed.
The warning seems to have lit a fire under the Liberal government. The original plan to buy surveillance aircraft did not anticipate the program starting until 2024, with bids being accepted in 2027.
Previous DND estimates have pegged the cost of the project at up to $5 billion. The department did not release a revised projection on Monday. Citing defence industry sources, the Ottawa Citizen reported last month the deal could be worth up to $9 billion.
Last month, at a Canadian Club event in Toronto, CEO of Montreal-based Bombardier Éric Martel called on the federal government to order an open, fair competition rather than a sole-source purchase.
“We’re not asking for charity,” Martel said. “We’re asking to be part of the process.”
Bombardier had been pitching a militarized version of its Global 6500 jet as a replacement for the air force’s current CP-140 Aurora, which has been in service doing coastal patrols since the early 1980s.
Public Services and Procurement Canada put out a call to industry to replace the Auroras. As part of its submission, Boeing has pointed out that the new Poseidon can operate on a 50 per cent blend of sustainable aviation fuel.
The statement on Monday noted that the P-8A “is a proven capability that is operated by several of Canada’s defence partners, including all of its Five Eyes allies — the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand — as well as Norway, and South Korea. Germany has also recently purchased this platform.”
Whenever Canada (or any other country) buys military equipment from defence contractors in the United States, the first step is to ask the State Department’s Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program for information. The U.S. Congress must also review and sign off on the deal.
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