Canada may wait quite a while to see the ‘maple leaf’ on the F-35

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It appears that Canada may face a longer wait than initially anticipated for the delivery of its first fifth-generation F-35 fighter jet. As per the original plan, the first of these advanced aircraft was scheduled to arrive on Canadian soil in 2026. 

Photo by Lance cpl. Jose S.Guerrero Deleon

However, a top-ranking U.S. military officer recently suggested in an interview with the Ottawa Citizen that F-35 deliveries to Canada and other partner nations might face postponements. This potential delay poses a considerable downside for both the Royal Canadian Air Force [RCAF] and the country’s taxpayers. Should these delays materialize, Canadian taxpayers could face an additional expenditure of up to $700 million, further escalating the overall cost of this procurement. 

The risk of delivery delays is genuinely present. The Canadian military authorities have officially recognized this concern in a letter to the Ottawa Citizen. Despite acknowledging the possibility of delivery setbacks, the local military authorities maintain that, at present, they are still expecting the initial aircraft delivery to proceed as planned in 2026.

Photo by Sergeant Craig Barrett

A non-existent plane

The United States has an established practice of marketing “conjectural” aircraft that are yet to be produced. As per BulgarianMilitary.com, the initial order placements for the F-16 Block 70/72 were made by Bahrain, Slovakia, and Bulgaria, even before the first such aircraft was structured. Stunningly, these orders preceded the construction of the new plant in North Carolina. 

A similar situation is observed with the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning Block 4. The United States began to sell this variant to its associates, even when doubts lingered around the plausibility of the TR-3 modification’s integration. It was later revealed that the TR-3 encountered some snags, the solutions for which required more than six months to figure out. Nevertheless, the United States continued to make sales and make delivery promises, commitments that, from the look of things now, might not be fulfilled. Yet, they’ve received the payment.

Photo credit: Twitter

Canada is only hoping for a one-year delay

While indications of a delay in the delivery schedule may yet be confirmed, cost estimates tied to potential delays have begun to surface in the homeland of the “maple syrup”. It’s estimated that a delay of around 12 months could mean the Canadian taxpayer would be hit with an additional cost of approximately $400 million. 

If this delay were to stretch to 24 months, the cost would nearly double, reaching $700 million. However, no one seems keen on vocalizing the daunting figure that a 36-month delay could impose. If Canada has yet to receive its first F-35 three years past the deadline, the costs could exceed a staggering billion US dollars. 

Photo credit: Lockheed Martin

For a clearer understanding of what the TR-3 modification entails and where the core issue lies, we recommend going through this article we have previously published.

Trudeau’s circus

It’s vital not to point fingers at Lockheed Martin or the US for problems that are commonplace in various global industries. Singleton issues in design or technology crop up often and are addressed daily. This situation isn’t unique. 

What Canadians need to do, though, is to hold their leader accountable. If Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s actions have faded from memory, let us retrace the history. In the 2015 elections, he promised that his administration would not procure the F-35 jet. 

Even during his tenure as the Prime Minister, Trudeau maintained that the Canadian military wasn’t a necessity for the F-35. He stated in June 2016, “Canadians are aware that the Conservatives, for a decade, failed to provide the necessary equipment for our armed forces. They held on to a jet, the F-35, which is far from operational.” 

The Liberals were also of the conviction that Canada didn’t require the F-35’s advanced stealth first-strike capability”. However, on Jan. 9, they announced the purchase of the F-35, affirming its essentiality in safeguarding Canada and fulfilling obligations to its allies. 

Experts and academic voices associated with the Canadian Forces and defense industry have appreciated the Liberal government’s progression from its initial stance against the F-35 purchase.

After all, the first Block 4 appeared. Did it?

Belgium is set to make history in 2024 by receiving the first F-35 Lightning II Block 4. Lockheed Martin, the esteemed manufacturer of this state-of-the-art craft, formally introduced it to officials from the Belgian government during an invitation-only unveiling ceremony. 

However, the clarity of Lockheed Martin’s announcement was muddled with their press release, leading to uncertainty as to whether the AY-01 model to be delivered is indeed the Block 4 version. This vague presentation seems to hover over Belgium’s recent request for the newest model of the F-35. According to the plan, the first duo of these extraordinary fighter jets was positioned to be dispatched to the Belgian Air Component [BAC] in the current year. 

Zoom in to August of this year, the very model in question, the F-35 AY-01, was assembled and successfully exited the assembly line. Concurrently, Belgium maintained its clear stance: it would only accept delivery of the aircraft if it was confirmed to be a Block 4 version. 

Lockheed Martin promised

    In response to the growing uncertainty, Lockheed Martin sought to provide reassurance. Speaking to BulgarianMilitary.com, the company affirmed that the Belgian Air Force would indeed receive precisely what it ordered: the F-35 Block 4. This was communicated through a Bulgarian PR firm representing Lockheed Martin’s interests in Bulgaria’s market to a correspondent of BulgarianMilitary.com. 

    Further clarification was provided following Belgian media reports claiming that the AY-01 and AY-02 models did not comply with the technical requirements of the Block 4 edition. Lockheed Martin rectified the situation by declaring that the necessary upgrades would shortly be made, providing the Belgian Government with the assurance that their specific requirements would be met.

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