Important questions remain unanswered even though Ottawa’s purchase of 88 F-35 fighter jets is official. It is not known, for example, where the repair shop will be located and who will train the pilots who will sit at the controls of the fighters. The spinoffs from the contract with Lockheed Martin are at stake for the Quebec aerospace industry.
“What we would like is to move up the chain and carry out the maintenance of the landing gear and not only [fabriquer] the system as we have done since the beginning, explains Martin Brassard, President and CEO of Héroux-Devtek. This is one way the contract could benefit us. »
The specialist in landing gear and aeronautical components is one of the few players in the Quebec aeronautical sector that is among the partners of the F-35 – this aircraft presented as the most advanced from a technological point of view. The Longueuil-based company manufactures the locking doors for the stealth fighter’s landing gear. However, it would like to play a maintenance role. There is, however, “zero guarantees” from the Canadian government that this will happen, according to Mr. Brassard. Like other industry representatives contacted by The PressMonday, the businessman still does not know how certain fallout from the contract will materialize.
In the aerospace sector, sources, who asked not to be named for fear of reprisals from the Trudeau government, were not shy to say that they would have liked to see more cooperation from the federal authorities, as well as firmer commitments.
If the bill is 19 billion for the purchase of aircraft that will replace the old CF-18s, it is estimated at 70 billion over the life cycle of the program, which should span three decades. The contracts that will result from maintenance, repair and training, in particular, promise to be lucrative.
“There is work that Lockheed Martin wants to do itself or with subcontractors with whom it does business, worries David Chartrand, general vice-president of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers ( IAMTA). Building a plane is one thing, but maintaining it is very lucrative. Unfortunately, we still do not know what portion of the F-35 we will be able to maintain. »
Aéro Montréal, the province’s industrial cluster, did not comment on the case on Monday.
According to Canada’s industrial and technological benefits policy, companies must generate benefits equivalent to the value of the contract. On its website, Lockheed Martin mentions spin-offs of around 17 billion. The breakdown of this sum is not specified.
According to documents provided by Public Services and Procurement Canada, Canadian F-35 partner companies will benefit from the “expected production of 3,000 fighters worldwide”.
The agreement between the Trudeau government and the American giant provides for the “establishment of a training program” and “maintenance services”, but it was not possible to obtain more details on Monday.
We limit ourselves to mentioning “significant possibilities of support”, without providing figures.
“We could use large military purchases to support our industry, but I think with the F-35, we don’t do that,” believes Mehran Ebrahimi, professor at the University of Quebec in Montreal and director of the Observatory of aeronautics and civil aviation. There are things [entretien et formation] that one could demand, and one does not do it. »
What was clear with Boeing and Saab – the two other manufacturers who coveted the CF-18 replacement contract – is therefore much less clear with Lockheed Martin and the F-35.
In Quebec, L3Harris and CAE, two major players, were among the five preferred partners identified by Boeing in its proposal. The first company would have been in charge of the maintenance of the hunters and the second would have inherited what revolves around training. Saab promised for its part a maintenance center on Quebec territory in addition to relying on CAE for training.
Based in Montreal, CAE swims in the unknown. However, it is the employees of the multinational who supervise the CF-18 simulators installed at the bases in Bagotville and Cold Lake (Alberta).
“At this time, we cannot confirm whether CAE will be involved […] as part of the F-35 project, underlines its vice-president, defense and security, Canada, France Hébert, in a statement. We simply cannot afford to miss this unique opportunity to create and protect the next generation of aerospace jobs in Canada. »
The portrait is similar at L3Harris, in Mirabel, in the Laurentians, where the CF-18s are repaired. The company’s general manager, Ugo Paniconi, remains positive, but confirms that there have been no exchanges with Lockheed Martin about the F-35.
“It’s normal at this stage,” he explains. Good news to see the contract [pour les 88 F-35] finalized. Of course we are interested in participating. We hope to be able to start discussions. »
In the spring of 2022, L3Harris, which has more than 650 employees in Mirabel, had won a contract extension valued at 610 million to maintain the CF-18s until the end of their useful life, scheduled for 2032.
- 890 devices
- Approximate F-35 deliveries made by Lockheed Martin to date.
source: lockheed martin
- In addition to Canada, the F-35 is deployed in nine countries, including the United States, United Kingdom, Italy and Australia.
source: lockheed martin