MILAN — The Canadian government is considering the purchase of as many as 16 P-8A surveillance aircraft from the American company Boeing without a competition, despite objections from Quebec-based business Bombardier.
On March 27, Canada announced Boeing’s P-8A Poseidon is the sole available aircraft that conforms to all operational requirements outlined in the Canadian Multi-Mission aircraft project. The effort is meant to provide the military with intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, anti-submarine warfare capabilities and more.
“In view of exploring this option in more detail, Canada has submitted a Letter of Request through the U.S. government’s Foreign Military Sales program outlining the requirements and requesting an offer,” Public Services and Procurement Canada, a federal department, said in a statement. “These include up to 16 P-8A aircraft and associated equipment and initial servicing, as well as access to intellectual property and technical data.”
The letter does not commit Ottawa to buying the fleet. A final decision will ultimately rest on affordability, capability offered and advantages to Canadian industry.
The country has sought a replacement for its CP-140 Aurora fleet for some time. The Lockheed Martin-made aircraft has been in service with the Royal Canadian Air Force since the 1980s and will need to be retired by 2030.
A Boeing spokesperson told Defense News that the company and its Canadian industry partners — CAE, GE Aviation Canada, IMP Aerospace and Defence, KF Aerospace, Honeywell Aerospace Canada, Raytheon Canada, and StandardAero — are committed to delivering industrial and technical benefits to significantly expand the country’s defense industry.
Bombardier, which had planned to offer its Global 6500 aircraft as a replacement for the Aurora, has argued that a Canadian-made solution must be considered on an equal footing.
“Canada has the opportunity to leverage its [domestic] aerospace industry to provide a multimission aircraft that will be the standard for decades to come,” Bombardier spokesman Mark Masluch said. “Performance should matter. Canadian jobs should matter. And sustainability matters most.”
Bombardier has been in contact with Defence Minister Anita Anand regarding the matter, and the company is “eagerly” awaiting a response, he said.
Rivals with a history
The competitors have been at odds for years, even entering into a trade dispute in 2018 over the sale of Bombardier’s 100-seat CSeries jets, which Boeing complained to the U.S. government were sold to air travel company Delta below their cost of production. Bombardier ultimately won.
Ottawa had issued a request for information in February 2022, outlining 13 mandatory requirements for the eventual platform. Among the core ones are an aircraft with secure and non-secure line-of-sight and beyond-line-of-sight communication tools; the ability to conduct multi-spectral sensing; and the ability to access external information sources in real time or near-real time.
What could play in the P-8A Poseidon’s favor is its air-to-air refueling capability, one that the Aurora aircraft lacks. In addition, the fact that four out of five of Poseidon’s operators are Five Eyes members may be beneficial on some level when considering tactical interoperability, shared logistics and infrastructure elements.
That intelligence-sharing alliance is made up of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States.
Although there is no official contract yet, this does represent a step in the right direction for Boeing, after recent setbacks it suffered in regard to Canadian industry prospects. In 2021, its KC-46 failed to qualify for the Royal Canadian Air Force’s Strategic Tanker Transport Capability program. And in December 2022, the Public Services and Procurement Canada ruled out the participation of the F/A-18 block III Super Hornet in the future fighter capability project.
Elisabeth Gosselin-Malo is a Europe correspondent for Defense News. She covers a wide range of topics related to military procurement and international security, and specializes in reporting on the aviation sector. She is based in Milan, Italy.