Photo - F-35The government may have received the options analysis from the National Fighter Procurement Secretariat, but it has yet to indicate whether it will proceed with the acquisition of the Joint Strike Fighter or hold an open competition.

Not surprisingly, Lockheed Martin has been making the government and Canadians aware of what is at stake if Prime Minister Harper opts for a new competition for the replacement of the CF-18 fighter jets. In January, the company hosted a webinar with Steve O’Bryan, its vice president of business development and strategic integration for the F-35, and senior executives from six Canadian companies currently delivering on contracts for the multinational program.

While O’Bryan reaffirmed Lockheed’s efforts to drive down costs on the aircraft while meeting key milestones, the JSF’s Canadian supplier base were keen to emphasize the value of contracts and high-tech jobs they already derive from the program and what they expect in the future. O’Bryan said that Canadian companies have been awarded over $600 million in contracts even though the government has yet to purchase a single airplane.

Larry Glenesk, senior vice president of business development for British Columbia’s Avcorp Industries, said work on the outboard wing assembly of the carrier variant has forced the company to develop new techniques for precision drilling and helped it adopt new technology Avcorp will be able to leverage for future commercial work.

The company employs 60 people in high end jobs today and will exceed 100 for 25 to 40 years once the program reaches full capacity. “We’re in at the ground floor of this program,” he said, adding that early participation has helped the company tap into the global supply chains of JSF partners BAE Systems, Northrop Grumman and Pratt & Whitney.

Larry Fitzgerald, vice president of operations for Centra Industries in Cambridge, Ontario, credited facility and technology upgrades for the JSF program with helping the company land commercial contracts with Boeing and Bombardier. “We had to develop not just new technology but also techniques,” he said. “These are high paying, high skilled professionals contributing to the Canadian economy. And there are still more contracts to be won.”

For Gabe Batstone, CEO of Vancouver-based NGRAIN, the JSF program has been a boon for business for almost a decade – it began with training and maintenance solutions and is now providing 3D virtual damage assessment solutions for pilots. “We have received millions of dollars of contracts and we see tens of millions of business ahead of us,” he said. “We are developing unique marketable technology.”

Though NGRAIN has seen growth in jobs and export opportunities, he cautioned that much of that could disappear “if we don’t follow through with F-35.”