The United States is poised to take the lead in the development and sale of the world’s largest, most advanced stealth fighter jets, but Canada is expected to follow suit as a new, smaller competitor in the class.
Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan announced on Wednesday that the US has agreed to sell the F-22 Raptor to Canada for $350-million over four years, and a decision is expected in June.
That comes as a big relief for Canada’s F-16 fighter pilots who are looking to buy new jets to replace the ones they have been using for years.
“We are hopeful that this deal will be beneficial for Canada and its Armed Forces,” Sajja said in a statement.
“Canadian military pilots have been asking for this aircraft for a long time and I am confident that the F/A-18A and F/S-16 will play a significant role in their future,” said F-15E/F fighter pilot Chris Smith.
Canada has an estimated 7,500 F-18 pilots.
The US Air Force’s F/ A-18 Super Hornet is currently Canada’s largest fighter aircraft.
While Canada has the most advanced fighter jets in the world, Sajjad noted the US military is still using the F100, a much older, cheaper version of the Super Hornets stealth fighter.
“In addition, the F35 is not yet in production and the F18 is the only stealth fighter currently in service,” Sankar Hari, a defence analyst with the International Institute for Strategic Studies, told CBC News.
“But I think that Canada is well positioned in terms of its ability to get to the F40 program.”
F-20 Raptors, F-27 Raptors and F-30s are among the other countries in the mix for the next-generation fighters.
The F-32, a derivative of the F22 Raptors that debuted in 2003, is also being sold to the US.
The government says that the Canadian F-40 is an important component of its future air force, and that it is looking at potential export deals with countries like the US and Germany.
“I’m sure that the Department of National Defence will continue to look at these options, but the fact is that Canada will be an important player,” Hari said.
But there is a catch: Canada will need to pay a high price for its F-80s, F/s-20 and F2 fighters.
Canada also will have to pay an additional $100-million for the F20s, $70-million to the Super Hornets and $25-million each for the Super Sabres and F6s, Hari added.
The cost of those fighter jets could reach $600-million or more if they were purchased by the United States, which has already spent $400-million on the next generation fighters, according to Hari.
The price tag for the new fighter jets is expected between $600 and $650-million.
Canada’s new fighter jet deal comes as the government is expected soon to announce a new set of guidelines for selling new F-14 and F15 jets to the U.S.