The U.S. State Department is giving the go-ahead for a potential sale of military surveillance aircraft to Canada — at an estimated cost of US$5.9 billion.
That would translate to roughly $8 billion in Canadian dollars.
The potential sale, which has not yet been finalized, could see Canada purchase up to 16 Boeing P-8A Poseidon planes and related equipment to replace its aging fleet of CP-140 Auroras.
Canada submitted a letter to the U.S. government in March asking for more information about the aircraft, after the federal procurement department said consultations identified the Poseidon as the only aircraft that could meet Canada’s requirements for a new surveillance aircraft.
In particular, the consults pointed to the need for an aircraft capable of anti-submarine warfare and C4ISR — the acronym used for the battle management concept of command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.
On Tuesday, the Pentagon’s Defence Security Cooperation Agency said it had notified Congress about the potential sale, including the estimated cost and benefits to the U.S.
“This proposed sale will support the foreign policy and national security objectives of the United States by helping to improve the military capability of Canada,” the agency said in a statement.
“There will be no adverse impact on U.S. defense readiness as a result of this proposed sale.”
Congress has up to 15 days to intervene and reject the sale, but officials on both sides of the border say that’s unlikely given the close relationship between the two countries. No formal congressional approval is needed.
Once that 15-day deadline expires and Canada agrees to the purchase, a letter of acceptance would be sent by the U.S. and reviewed and signed by Canada, which would allow the Pentagon to begin facilitating the procurement of the planes and equipment.
Public Services and Procurement Canada said the Canadian government has not yet committed to purchasing the Poseidon aircraft from the U.S. and “continues to assess its options.”
“The final decision will be based on Canada’s assessment of the offered capability, availability, pricing and benefits to Canadian industry and communities,” a statement from the department said.
The Pentagon noted the US$5.9-billion price tag was the highest estimated dollar value for the request, and that the actual price would be lower depending on final requirements and other factors.
A spokesperson for Procurement Minister Helena Jaczek’s office told Global News the government’s decision must “ensure significant Canadian economic benefits,” but also stressed the importance of Canada’s current military surveillance aircraft.
“The CP-140 Aurora is a critical resource for the Canadian Armed Forces, which supports a wide variety of roles — from operations management, maritime and overland intelligence to search and rescue,” the office’s spokesperson said in an email.
Most recently, an Aurora plane was deployed to assist in last week’s international search for the doomed Titan submersible that went missing while searching for the wreckage of the Titanic. The aircraft provided sonar detection capabilities while also conducting searches of the ocean surface.
The surveillance planes have also taken part in Operation NEON, the United Nations-led mission that enforces sanctions against North Korea for its weapons program.
Last year, Global News learned that Chinese fighter jet pilots were repeatedly “buzzing” Canadian Aurora planes over international waters during Operation NEON, flying close enough to force the Auroras to take evasive maneuvers.
The government’s decision to seek replacement surveillance aircraft from Boeing, a U.S.-based company, without a competitive bidding process sparked criticism earlier this year from Montreal-based Bombardier.
The jet maker joined forces this year with U.S. rival General Dynamics on a surveillance aircraft with submarine hunting technology. The plane would be a modified version of the Global 6500 jet, equipped with tech and sensors from General Dynamics Mission Systems Canada — an Ottawa-based subsidiary of the Virginia defence contractor.
Bombardier Defense executive vice-president Jean-Christophe Gallagher told reporters in May that Boeing should be able to prove the superiority of the Poseidon in competition with his company.
“Our platform not only burns 30 per cent less fuel; it flies further, faster, higher, it delivers on all of Canada’s requirements and it does it better than the American aircraft,” he claimed.
In its March letter of request to the U.S. government, Canada’s procurement department said Boeing’s P-8A Poseidon is “the only currently available aircraft that meets all of the CMMA (Canadian Multi-Mission Aircraft) operational requirements” and noted the P-8’s prevalence among Canadian allies.
“This platform is a proven capability that is operated by several of Canada’s defence partners including all of its Five Eyes allies — the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand — as well as Norway, and South Korea. Germany has also recently purchased this platform,” the March 27 statement said.
—with files from the Canadian Press
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