COVID-19 is likely to delay the delivery of 18 to 24 Lockheed Martin [LMT] F-35 Lightning II fighters by several months, a company official said on Aug. 6.

“Our goal for this year was to deliver 141 [F-35] airplanes,” Steve Callaghan, the vice president of F-35 business development for Lockheed Martin Aeronautics, told reporters during a virtual meeting to discuss the company’s F-35 bid for the Canadian Future Fighter competition and the F-35 program overall.

“Due to the COVID impacts to our supply chain, we’ll have a difficult time achieving that goal,” he said. “As [U.S.] Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment [Ellen] Lord has said, major defense acquisition programs across the board are expected to see about a three-month production delay. That’s true in our case. We expect F-35 delays to last two or three months. At this time, we expect to see an impact of approximately 18 to 24 aircraft. However, we’re going to accelerate F-35 production when we return to pre-COVID-19 conditions so that we that can recover as many delayed aircraft as possible. The goal is for 141 airplanes. We’re continuing to work toward that goal, and we’re working with our customers and our supply chain to limit impacts and align deliveries to our customers’ priorities.”

The Royal Canadian Air Force is to replace 76 Boeing [BA] CF-18s with 88 new advanced fighters under the Future Fighter competition. In July last year, the Canadian government sent the Request For Proposals (RFP) to Lockheed Martin and other companies, including Sweden’s Saab, offering the Gripen E; Airbus, offering the Eurofighter Typhoon; and Boeing [BA], bidding the F/A-18 Super Hornet.

Canada is to score the proposals—60 percent for technical merit, 20 percent for cost, and 20 percent for industrial base benefit to Canada–before awarding a contract in 2022.

After submitting its bid on July 30, Lockheed Martin said that a Canadian choice of the conventional F-35A would support an estimated 150,000 jobs in Canada and that the F-35 program connects Canadian industry “to a global supply chain supporting a growing fleet that will deliver more than 3,200 aircraft and delivers sustainment well past 2060.” (Defense Daily, July 31)

Lockheed Martin said that it has delivered more than 555 F-35s so far. Gallagher said that an economic impact study by Toronto-based Offset Market Exchange (OMX) this year estimated a $16.9 billion boost to the Canadian economy from the F-35. The study used data from Lockheed Martin and F-35 engine maker, Pratt & Whitney, and took into account an F-35 production line between 2007 and 2046, and sustainment of the F-35 between 2026–the year Canada would take delivery of its first F-35–and 2058.

The U.S. Air Force recently released its Arctic Strategy, and Lockheed Martin said that a Canadian buy of the F-35 would help support NORAD and allied military forces in the Arctic.

“For Canada in the Far North, it’s important to have the 5th generation capabilities,” said Gallagher, a retired U.S. Navy F/A-18 squadron commander. “It starts with stealth so that you can detect them before they detect you–to have the most modern mission systems to do that with; the data fusion that it takes; the entire package that comes with the capability of the F-35 is what it’s going to take to detect them first to deal with the threats as dictated by the scenario, and, of course, the stealth aspect of it, to be able to survive those encounters. Also, there’s an interoperability piece. If Canada chooses the F-35, they will have direct interoperability with the U.S. Air Force, U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps and nations around the world.”

Both American companies in the competition, Lockheed Martin and Boeing, have had dust ups with Canada related to the competition.

The previous Canadian government planned to buy F-35s as the new aircraft, but during his election campaign in 2015, Justin Trudeau promised not to buy the aircraft. However, since then, Trudeau has said his government would hold an open competition.

Canada had planned to buy 18 Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornets worth $5.2 billion as an interim measure before the full CF-18 replacement competition (Defense Daily, Sept. 14, 2017).

However, in late 2017, the Canadian government revealed a plan to acquire 18 used Australian F-18 Hornets in the interim after getting into a trade dispute with the U.S. (Defense Daily, Dec. 12, 2017).

In the dispute Boeing began a trade challenge against Canada’s Bombardier in the U.S. over allegations it sold a commercial airliner at an artificially low price. In response, the Canadian government passed over the interim Super Hornets in favor of the older Australian models. (Defense Daily, Dec. 8, 2017).

The U.S. International Trade Commission eventually found in favor of Bombardier, preventing any U.S. duties on Bombardiers, as first proposed.