Canadian government to buy Boeing P-8A surveillance planes to replace aging Auroras

By The Canadian Press

The federal government is buying at least 14 Boeing surveillance planes from the United States to replace the aging CP-140 Aurora fleet, cabinet ministers announced Thursday.

The deal costs more than $10 billion in total, including US$5.9 billion for the jets themselves, and the planes are expected to be delivered in 2026 and 2027.

“These aircraft are not just planes, they are complex weapon systems. And the Poseidon has a proven capability with a track record of success,” Defence Minister Bill Blair said Thursday at a news conference in Ottawa.

He also said Boeing’s P-8A Poseidon reconnaissance plane was the only available aircraft that will meet Royal Canadian Air Force needs before the Auroras reach their retirement age in 2030.

In a media briefing on Thursday, officials said the fleet will give Canada new capabilities in the Arctic to hunt submarines, and that allies including Norway are already flying the planes in the Far North.

The officials from the Defence Department, the Royal Canadian Air Force and Procurement Department were providing the information on the condition they not be named.

The other members of the Five Eyes Intelligence alliance — the United States, United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand — as well as Germany and South Korea all fly the P-8, or plan to do so.

“This interoperability is key in today’s global security environment,” Blair said. “Our adversaries have been deploying increasingly sophisticated, stealthy and lethal capabilities.”

The decision to go with a sole-source contract has closed the door on Quebec-based jet maker Bombardier, which had been pushing for an open bid.

A typical procurement process with open tendering would take around three to four years to complete before the planes could be purchased, officials said Thursday.

Bombardier CEO Éric Martel has argued that its plane, which is currently a prototype and slated to roll off the line in the early 2030s, would offer a cheaper and more high-tech alternative that’s made in Canada.

Industry Minister François-Philippe Champagne, who represents a Quebec riding, called the company’s effort “a laudable goal.” But he joined his fellow ministers in presenting the P-8A as the only option currently on the table.

He noted that Boeing has committed to establishing an “innovation centre” in Montreal — a global aerospace hub and Bombardier’s home base.

Blair also acknowledged the decision to go for a sole-source deal marked a recognition the federal government needs to move faster on procurement.

Officials said Boeing has also signed an agreement to provide business activities and investments in Canada equal to the value of its portion of the contract, which is $5.4 billion.

Canada’s agreement with the United States government allows it to buy up to 16 planes, though officials said the plan is to first buy 14 to meet the air force’s needs.

The new fleet will be based in Nova Scotia at 14 Wing Greenwood and in B.C. at 19 Wing Comox. The planes have a range of more than 7,000 kilometres and can be refuelled in the air using the new CC-130 Husky fleet.

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