Canada has committed approximately $8.5 billion for the acquisition of 65 Lockheed Martin [LMT] F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters (JSF) as the country looks to replace its fleet of aging CF-18 Hornets, the Canadian government said.

The CF-18 is expected to reach the end of its operational life in the 2017-2020 time frame. Delivery of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is expected to start in 2016, according to the Canadian government.

“The majority of the expenditures will not be required until the 2015-2020 time frame, when Canada will begin to take delivery of the aircraft. Canadian industry will begin to benefit immediately, providing a near-term boost to the Canadian aerospace and defence sector,” the Canadian government said in a statement.

“The F-35 is the only available fifth generation aircraft that meets the Canadian Forces’s need for a next-generation fighter,” the Canadian government said. “The acquisition of the F-35 will help the Canadian Forces operate effectively to defend against the threats of the 21st century at home and abroad.”

Canada has been a participant in the JSF program since 1997, when the Department of National Defence signed on to the concept demonstration phase with an investment of $10 million. In 2002, Canada joined the System Development and Demonstration phase with a monetary investment of $100 million and an additional $50 million contributed through federal Canadian technology investment programs. The system development and demonstration phase runs through 2015, the Canadian government said.

In December 2006, Canada signed the JSF Production, Sustainment and Follow-on Development Memorandum of Understanding (MoU). The cost for Canada to participate in this phase is approximately $551 million over the course of the 2007-2051 time frame. This contribution will be used to cover Canada’s portion of production, sustainment and follow-on development costs, including common tooling, sustainment, and follow-on development activities, the Canadian government added.

In 2008, the Government of Canada announced its intent to replace the CF-18 fleet with a Next Generation Fighter Capability (NGFC). This was announced as a key commitment under the Canada First Defence Strategy.

Participation in the JSF program has already provided Canadian industry with long-term, high technology industrial opportunities, such as advanced composite manufacturing, mission systems and high speed machining. To date, Canada has invested approximately $159.4 million in the JSF program. Since 2002, the government’s participation in the JSF program has led to more than $332 million in contracts for more than 85 Canadian companies, research laboratories, and universities–meaning that Canada has already seen a two- to-one return on its investment, the Canadian government added.

Now that Canada has committed to purchasing the F-35, Canadian industrial opportunities could exceed $11.3 billion for the production of the aircraft. Sustainment and follow-on opportunities for Canadian industry are emerging and will be available over the 40-year life of the program. For instance, in accordance with the industrial participation agreements, all 19 Canadian companies manufacturing items for the F-35 will also repair and overhaul those components for the entire global fleet, the Canadian government said.

Earlier this spring, Boeing [BA] wrapped up its $586 million two-phase upgrade of the CF-18 Hornet, bringing the nine-year Modernization Project to a close. Phase 1 of the project, completed in 2006, upgraded the Canadian Hornet fleet’s avionics, radar, radio and weapons capabilities. Phase 2 included: a data link system to ensure interoperability with aircraft from the United States and other allied nations; the Boeing Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing System to improve weapons targeting; new color cockpit displays to increase situational awareness; and an upgraded, chaff-and-flare dispensing electronic warfare system to improve survivability (Defense Daily, March 29).