Defense manufacturer Lockheed Martin has renewed its warning that it will move investment out of Canada if the federal government decides not to buy its problem-riddled F-35 fighter jet.
Jeff Babione, the project lead on the F-35, told media at the Royal International Air Tattoo — a military air show in the U.K. — that the company is looking for alternatives to Canada as a site for F-35 production, a move that could reduce employment by nearly 10,000 jobs.
A Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II, known as the AM-1 Joint Strike Jet Fighter, is unveiled during the rollout celebration at Lockheed Martin production facility in Fort Worth, TX, on Tuesday, Sep. 22, 2015. This version of the craft was built for the Norwegian air force. (Laura Buckman via Getty Images)
Canada is an industrial partner in the development of the F-35. Lockheed Martin said earlier this year that Canada’s share of the work would amount to about $10 billion for some 110 companies in the country over the course of the project.
The company warned earlier it would pull $825 million in already existing contracts if the federal government opted against buying the jets.
The federal Liberals campaigned last fall on a promise to scrap the F-35 contract, which the previous Conservative government had put on hold. In a telling sign, the Liberals earlier this year missed the deadline for a payment required to keep Canada as part of the F-35 project.
But Defense Minister Harjit Sajjan announced a fresh round of consultations last week to find a replacement for Canada’s aging CF-18 jets. The Liberals had previously contemplated buying Boeing’s F/A-18 Super Hornet jets without a competitive process, so the news that the government would still consider alternatives was welcome at Lockheed.
Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan announced last week the government will hold new consultations to decide on a replacement for its aging fleet of CF-18 fighter jets. (Photo: Fred Chartrand/The Canadian Press)
“Certainly Canada remains an important partner,” Babione said, as quoted at FlightGlobal. But he noted that buying the jets is a condition of landing contracts to build the jet.
“We’re concerned that Canada would not be able to do that,” Babione said. “We would rather Canada purchase the aircraft. But there is a timeline where we may have to pass work elsewhere.”
Frank Kendall, the Pentagon’s senior weapons buyer, said there is “no process” in place for what do when a country backs out of a large project like this.
But he suggested the other countries involved would not want to have Canada participating if it’s not buying the jets.
“I think there would be pretty strong reaction amongst the rest of the partners to continuing to provide work share to a country that’s not participating in buying aircraft,” he said, as quoted at Defense News.
Employees stand next to an open cockpit of a Lockheed Martin Corp. F 35 fighter jet aircraft on the opening day of the Farnborough International Airshow 2016 in Farnborough, U.K., on Monday, July 11, 2016. (Bloomberg via Getty Images)
Killer ejection seat
The F-35 program has been plagued with delays and cost overruns, and the latest of these involves the ejection seats used in the aircraft.
The U.S. Air Force is pressuring Lockheed Martin to change ejection seats after tests last year found the model used in the F-35 can potentially break the neck of a pilot that weighs less than 136 lbs., and poses an "elevated level of risk" to any pilot under 165 lbs.
The Air Force is looking at alternative ejection seat models, but says the existing model could also be fixed, according to Defense News.