(Adds comments by procurement minister, defense analyst, background)
By David Ljunggren
OTTAWA, Feb 25 (Reuters) - Canada’s protracted effort to buy 88 new fighter jets hit a new delay on Tuesday when the government granted potential bidders another three months to submit their proposals.
Governments of various stripes have been trying for well over a decade to replace a fleet of ageing Boeing Co CF-18 jets, some of which are more than 40 years old. Last July, Ottawa launched the competition for a contract worth between C$15 billion ($11.30 billion) and C$19 billion.
The deadline for submitting preliminary proposals had been end-March. But the Liberal government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said that at the industry’s request, the deadline had been pushed back to June 30 to give bidders more time to address security questions.
In 2017, Canada announced it would buy a fleet of older Australian F-18 jets to help keep the air force operational until the new planes start arriving in 2025.
“Here we go again with more Liberal dithering and delaying because of Trudeau’s weak leadership. Meanwhile our air force is stuck with old rusted out fighters from Australia!” tweeted legislator James Bezan of the official opposition Conservatives.
The main contenders are Lockheed Martin Corp and Boeing, while Sweden’s Saab AB is also participating. Last August Airbus SE withdrew, citing onerous security requirements.
The office of Procurement Minister Anita Anand said the government had outlined what security steps contenders needed to take to ensure their planes could operate with allies.
European jets must meet stringent standards required by the United States, which with Canada operates the North American Aerospace Defense Command.
Canada has experienced many military procurement problems since the early 1990s, variously featuring search and rescue helicopters, trucks, close combat vehicles and submarines.
David Perry, a defense analyst at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute think tank, said Ottawa routinely extended time lines to ensure useful feedback from potential suppliers.
“This is a project where they have been progressively adding time for well over a decade,” he said by phone. “The net result is that they keep pushing back (the time) when they will actually get new aircraft.”
Airbus and other contenders had complained Ottawa appeared to be tilting the race in favor of Lockheed Martin’s F-35 plane, which the Royal Canadian Air Force wants. Canada is part of the consortium that developed the plane.
None of the three contenders was immediately available for comment.
$1 = 1.3287 Canadian dollars Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Dan Grebler and Richard Chang