OTTAWA, Ontario (AP) — Canada has officially narrowed its decade-long hunt for a new fighter jet to two choices as the federal government confirmed U.S. aerospace giant Boeing’s Super Hornet is out of the running to replace the military’s aging CF-18s.
The announcement on Wednesday from Public Services and Procurement Canada came nearly a week after Boeing had reportedly been told its bid for the $19-billion contract did not meet Ottawa’s requirements.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government refused to comment publicly at that time, and there was uncertainty around whether the U.S. aerospace giant had been dropped from the competition to provide Canada with 88 new fighter jets.
But the federal procurement department confirmed in a statement Wednesday that Lockheed Martin’s F-35 stealth fighter and the Swedish Saab Gripen are the only two aircraft still in contention.
While the statement did not say why Boeing’s offer did not make the cut, the fact that one of the two U.S. companies competing for the contract failed to make the final shortlist represents a major turn of events.
Following the government’s announcement, Boeing issued its own statement saying it was “disappointed and deeply concerned” that its Super Hornet had not made it to the next phase of the competition.
“We are working with the U.S. and Canadian governments to better understand the decision and looking for the earliest date to request a debrief to then determine our path forward,″ the company said.
Many observers had seen the Super Hornet and F-35 as the only real competition because of Canada’s close relationship with the United States, which includes using fighter jets together to defend North American air space on a daily basis.
Those perceptions were only amplified after two other European companies dropped out of the competition before it even started, complaining the government’s requirements had stacked the deck in favor of their U.S. rivals.
In particular, both Airbus and Dassault had complained about what they saw as onerous requirements associated with adapting their aircraft — the Eurofighter and Rafale, respectively — to meet Canada’s intelligence-sharing requirements.
Those requirements included ensuring their aircraft could integrate with the top-secret Canada-U.S. intelligence network known as “Two Eyes,″ which is used to defend North America.
Sweden is not a member of NATO or NORAD, the joint Canadian-American defense command responsible for protecting the continent from foreign threats. That had prompted questions about the Gripen’s compatibility with U.S. aircraft.
Both Lockheed Martin and Saab said Wednesday that they looked forward to working with the government during the final stretch of the competition.