ARCHIVED - Canada’s Next Generation Fighter Capability – The Joint Strike Fighter F-35 Lightning II

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Backgrounder / July 16, 2010 / Project number: BG–10.018

The Canada First Defence Strategy states that the Canadian Forces will acquire a next-generation fighter capability that will help them carry out their core missions of defending the sovereignty of Canadian and North American airspace through the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), and providing Canada with an effective and modern capability for international operations.

Canada will acquire an aircraft fully interoperable with our key allies to effectively conduct joint operations through the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) or a coalition. At home, the Canadian Forces will acquire a robust aircraft, capable of operating across Canada’s vast geography and under harsh and varying weather conditions. A next generation fighter with stealth technology is an extremely effective deterrent against challenges to Canadian sovereignty.

In July 2010, the Government of Canada announced it is acquiring the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) F-35, a fifth generation fighter jet, to replace its fourth generation fleet of CF-18s, which are expected to reach the end of their operational life in the 2017-2020 timeframe. Delivery of the new aircraft is expected to start in 2016.

The F-35 is the only available fifth generation aircraft that meets the Canadian Forces’s need for a next-generation fighter. The acquisition of the F-35 will help the Canadian Forces operate effectively to defend against the threats of the 21st century at home and abroad.

The F-35 is less visible to radar, providing very low observable stealth, has integrated sensor fusion that provides the pilot with all available information at a glance, and high-capacity, secure net-enabled operations that allows all F-35 aircraft to communicate with each other and share data in a secure environment.

What constitutes a fifth generation fighter?

There are three key capabilities that distinguish a fifth generation fighter aircraft from a fourth generation:

  1. Interoperability: a fifth generation aircraft provides a unique combination of stealth, long-range high-resolution sensors, and secure high-capacity networks that allow all F-35 aircraft to communicate with each other and share data in a secure environment;
  2. Sensors/Data fusion: fifth generation incorporates a system that consolidates tactical information from the sensors and off-board sources to provide pilots with a clear understanding of the tactical situation at a glance;
  3. Survivability: the survivability of a fifth generation aircraft is significantly increased by very low observable stealth, advanced sensors and secure data-link, which means a fifth generation aircraft can accomplish more in a mission with fewer supporting assets required.

A fourth generation aircraft cannot be upgraded to a fifth generation; the capabilities of a fifth generation aircraft, such as stealth technology, long-range high-resolution sensors, automated data fusion and secure high-capacity networks, must be built in.

A fifth generation fighter provides Canada with the highest probability of mission success, as well as the highest probability that the Canadian Forces pilot and aircraft will return home safely from the mission.

The Joint Strike Fighter Program and Canada’s History of Participation

The F-35 has been developed by Lockheed Martin and partners through the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) program, a multinational effort to build and sustain an affordable, multi-role, next generation stealth fighter aircraft.  Partners in the program include: the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Italy, Turkey, Denmark, Norway, and Australia. Purchasing the F-35 will ensure Canada remains interoperable with these major allies – including the US, our NORAD partner – well into the middle of this century.

JSF is the single largest fighter aircraft program in history. The total value of the program is expected to exceed US$383 billion, with production expected to top 5,000 aircraft; JSF partners are anticipated to acquire more than 3,000 aircraft, and export sales are estimated by Lockheed Martin at more than 2,000 aircraft. Based on these predictions, royalties from the export sales amounting to approximately $130 million will accrue to the Government of Canada’s Consolidated Revenue Fund.

The JSF program is comprised of three distinct phases: the Concept Demonstration Phase (1997 – 2001) which involved two competing bidders developing prototype aircraft (Lockheed Martin was selected as the prime contractor); the System Development and Demonstration Phase (2001 – 2013), developing and testing the aircraft systems and components to be used; and finally, the Production, Sustainment and Follow-on Development Phase (2007-2051), initiating production of the aircraft and sustaining parts for the serviceable life of the aircraft and follow-on development.

Canada has been a participant in the JSF program since 1997, when the Department of National Defence signed on to the Concept Demonstration phase with an investment of US$10 million. As part of this phase, Canada participated in the extensive and rigorous U.S.-led competitive process where two bidders, Boeing and Lockheed Martin, developed and competed prototype aircraft. This process led to the selection of Lockheed Martin as the JSF manufacturer in 2001.

In 2002, Canada joined the System Development and Demonstration phase with a monetary investment of U.S.$100 million, with an additional U.S.$50 million contributed through federal Canadian technology investment programs. The System Development and Demonstration phase runs through 2015.

In 2003, the United States invited the current partners to participate in the Production, Sustainment and Follow-on Development phase of the program. In December 2006, Canada signed the JSF Production, Sustainment and Follow-on Development Memorandum of Understanding (MOU). The cost for Canada to participate in this phase is approximately U.S.$551 million over the course of the 2007-2051 timeframe. This contribution will be used to cover Canada’s portion of production, sustainment and follow-on development costs, including common tooling, sustainment, and follow-on development activities. 

Acquiring a Next Generation Fighter Capability

In 2008, the Government of Canada announced its intent to replace the CF-18 fleet with a Next Generation Fighter Capability (NGFC). This was announced as a key commitment under the Canada First Defence Strategy.

In 2010, the Government of Canada exercised its options under the JSF program memorandum of understanding with the partner nations to acquire the F-35 to meet Canada’s operational requirement, while providing the best value for Canada.

By acquiring a next generation fighter aircraft through the JSF program, Canada will see a significant reduction in the cost of acquisition and savings throughout the life-cycle of the aircraft, due to the collaborative approach to the sustainment and follow-on development.

The Government of Canada has committed approximately CAD$9 billion to the acquisition of 65 F-35 aircraft and associated weapons, supporting infrastructure, initial spares, training simulators, contingency funds and project operating costs. This is funded through the Canada First Defence Strategy and the National Defence Investment Plan.

The majority of the expenditures will not be required until the 2015-2020 timeframe, when Canada will begin to take delivery of the aircraft. Canadian industry will begin to benefit immediately, providing a near-term boost to the Canadian aerospace and defence sector.

Sustained Economic Benefits for Canadian Industry

Canada’s participation in the JSF program brings significant benefits to Canada.   This program is delivering on the Canada First Defence Strategy’s commitment to a renewed relationship with Canada’s defence industry, leveraging Canada’s competitive advantage and working with industry to help position Canadian companies for success in the global marketplace. With a long-term investment in this aircraft, Canada’s defence industry has a rare and unique opportunity to be a part of the JSF global supply chain, advancing its technology, while bringing jobs and sustained economic benefits to regions across Canada.

In order to maximize industrial benefits and minimize costs, partner countries agreed to a best-value approach to industrial participation in the JSF program. In accordance with the JSF memorandum of understanding and in support of Canadian industry, Industry Canada has signed agreements with Lockheed Martin and partners. These industrial participation agreements have provided unprecedented access to a significant multinational defence program for companies across Canada, including small and medium enterprises.

Participation in the JSF program has already provided Canadian industry with long-term, high technology industrial opportunities, such as advanced composite manufacturing, mission systems and high speed machining. To date, Canada has invested approximately CAD$168 million in the JSF program. Since 2002, the Government’s participation in the JSF program has led to more than CAD$350 million in contracts for more than 85 Canadian companies, research laboratories, and universities—meaning that Canada has already seen a two-to-one return on its investment.

Now that Canada has committed to purchasing the F-35, Canadian industrial opportunities could exceed CAD$12 billion for the production of the aircraft. Sustainment and follow-on opportunities for Canadian industry are emerging and will be available over the 40-year life of the program. For instance, in accordance with the industrial participation agreements, all 19 Canadian companies manufacturing items for the F-35 will also repair and overhaul those components for the entire global fleet.


Not only does the F-35 meet all of the Canadian Forces operational requirements for a next generation fighter aircraft, the F-35 offers the best value by providing exceptional capability at the lowest cost with excellent benefits and opportunities for the Canadian defence industry. This acquisition will equip the Canadian Forces with the aircraft it needs to defend Canada’s sovereignty and contribute to the defence of North America and international security.


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