After a tense set of politically charged negotiations, the Canadian government has announced it will be purchasing 88 F-35 Lightning II from Lockheed Martin. Officials have said deliveries will begin in 2026 with four aircraft, with further shipments scheduled over a six to eight year period. The fleet is set to be fully operational by 2032-2034.
The initial cost of the new F-35 fleet is 19 billion CAD (14.2 billion USD), with an estimated service life cost of about 70 billion CAD (52.38 billion USD).
The purchase inquiry to replace the CF-18 began in 1997 and was officially announced in 2010. The announcement was tainted by years of controversy in Canada will several reports turning the purchase into a scandal with accusations of corruption and ineptitude making headlines in the early 2010’s.
The F-35 had been created on the agreement of several nations participating financially to the research and development, with Canada having invested significant sums of money into the program.
However, due to the government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s reluctance to give a detailed report on the financial situation surrounding the purchase and contract negotiations with Lockheed Martin led, in-part, to a non-confidence vote and a major shakeup in the 2011 federal elections.
“Canadians know full well that, for 10 years, the Conservatives completely missed the boat when it came to delivering to Canadians and their armed forces the equipment they needed. They clung to an aircraft that does not work and is far from working.” – Justin Trudeau in 2016
The program wasn’t mentioned again by the government until Prime Minister Justin Trudeau noted during his campaign in 2015 that he would not be purchasing the F-35, and instead go with “one of the many, lower-priced options that better match Canada’s defense needs”. Regardless, the F-35 was selected by the Department of National Defence in March of 2022 as the top contender for Canada’s air fleet, receiving funding in late December of the same year.
The current McDonnell Douglas CF-18 Hornet is based on the American F/A-18 Hornet, which was replaced in the U.S. by the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, an aircraft which the Canadians tested and found wanting.
Throughout the nation, the purchase and announcement has been marred with controversy already. Activist protests have sprung up throughout the nation prior to the announcement, with many social justice and climate activists saying the government should be spending the money on alleviating the already tight budget of the Canadian government. Chants of “no new fighter jets,” could be heard outside of the offices of Canada’s Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault over the weekend in downtown Montreal. In October, Swedish aircraft giant SAAB also accused the Canadian government of unfair negotiations during the finalization phase of the testing.
On the other side, the purchase is the largest defense purchase by the Canadian government in over 30 years, bringing hope to the many Canadians that are disgruntled at their government’s inaction on replacing and upgrading aging equipment, especially in light of the circumstances in Ukraine.