SALON DU BOURGET, France -- Hope is very much still alive that Canada will purchase F-35 Joint Strike Fighters, despite indications late last year that the country would choose the F/A-18 Super Hornet instead.
Jeff Babione, executive vice president and general manager of the F-35 program for manufacturer Lockheed Martin, told Military.com in an interview Wednesday at the Paris Air Show that he is "confident" the aircraft will be selected in an open competition to replace Canada's aging CF-18 Hornets.
Babione said he hopes the F-35A aerial demo at the show, which highlighted the aircraft's ability to maneuver with ease, had made an impact on Canadian officials.
"I had the privilege of meeting with the Canadian contingent here at the Paris Air Show, and I'm actually very encouraged about our conversation," he said. "We were talking about how the F-35 can be part of their future fighter competition. Clearly, they were able to see the capabilities of the airplane here with the demonstration and, previously, a significant amount of information about the F-35, its amazing capabilities, its sensor fusion and 5th-generation capabilities, as well as the capabilities they saw here."
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Babione confirmed that Lockheed had submitted a proposal to the F-35's Joint Program Office for a "block buy" that would bundle three consecutive low-rate initial production lots and include more than 400 aircraft, about half of which would be purchased by international buyers.
Officials are currently negotiating the next purchase lot, LRIP 11, which includes about 130 airplanes, he said. The prospective block buy would include lots 12, 13 and 14, and would likely be valued at more than $40 billion, Babione said.
"A certain number of the partners have already authorized the ability to do a block buy, and then the U.S. services will be a series of options on that contract," he said. "... So that's what we're going to propose to our Joint Program Office customer later on, next year."
Other countries, in addition to the original international partners, have expressed interest in the aircraft. Babione said the F-35 is slated to be part of fighter buy competitions in Finland and Belgium, and added that Germany recently expressed interest in the aircraft. It's not clear yet, however, how many F-35s Germany might be interested in acquiring.
Also unclear is whether Canada will be able to participate in a block buy, even if it opts to pursue the F-35. National news outlet Radio-Canada reported that a decision won't be made on which fighter to go with until the start of the next decade.
"They're a good standing partner in the program," Babione said of Canada. "And we encourage them as soon as practical to make a decision with their fighter competition."