F-35: Saab accuses Canada of breaking rules of competition

U.S. Air Force photo

Saab has accused the Canadian government of disrespecting the terms of a tender that saw the country choose the US-made Lockheed Martin F-35 fighter over the Swedish Gripen. 

In a hearing with the House of Commons committee on government operations on September 28, 2022, the CEO of Saab Canada, Simon Carroll, claimed that the authorities of Ottawa were currently addressing issues with Lockheed Martin and the United States that should have already been agreed upon during the tender. 

“Recent statements by the government indicated Canada is negotiating cost, delivery schedule, and economic benefits with our competitor,” Carroll said to the committee. “There should be no negotiation on these critical elements. These elements of the bidders’ response were to be committed to and then evaluated as part of the competitive process.” 

Addressing the controversy, Public Services and Procurement Canada spokesperson Michèle LaRose said that the department was following the procedure to the letter. 

“The finalization phase is still ongoing and is being executed as specified in the tender documents,” LaRose said, as quoted by Radio Canada. “During this phase, the top-ranking bidder must then demonstrate that a potential contract would meet all of Canada’s requirements.” 

Contracts related to the F-35 acquisition are to be signed by the end of 2022, with the first delivery to the Royal Canadian Air Force to take place in 2025. 

Saab is not the first to accuse Canada of favoring Lockheed Martin in this tender.  

Unfair from the start? 

It is the second time that Canada has selected Lockheed’s fifth-generation fighter for its air force. In 2010, the government, then led by the conservative Stephen Harper, had already selected the F-35 without any tender.  

But in 2015, liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau openly criticized the absence of competition during his electoral campaign, vowing that he would scrap the order and hold an “open and transparent tender” instead, which he did. 

In 2017, the Future Fighter Capability Project was launched.  

However, in 2018, Dassault Aviation withdrew its candidacy, citing unfair conditions favoring Lockheed Martin.  

“It is impossible to sell the Rafale to the Five Eyes member countries [Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States – ed. note], not because it is not interoperable […] but because this network has set rules that they refuse to communicate to us and that aim to have their members work together,” CEO Eric Trappier explained at the time. 

Airbus did the same a year later, also reproaching set conditions that seemed to favor Lockheed Martin in the competition. Boeing was dismissed in late 2021 as the Super Hornet did not meet an unspecified requirement.  

On March 28, 2022, the Canadian government finally announced that it was going to start negotiations with Lockheed Martin in order to acquire 88 F-35As, a deal valued at $19 billion.  

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