The Canadian military took the unprecedented step of allowing the F-35 fighter to be promoted at a Quebec base this weekend amid the government's $ 19 billion lawsuit to buy new aircraft.
Having just one of four fighter jets on display has further heightened concern among some industry representatives that the competition is rigged in favor of the F-35.
Lockheed Martin Canada, a subsidiary of the North American jet maker, has unveiled the unique opportunity to market the aircraft's appearance at the Bagotville Canadian Forces Base and the air show there.
Bagotville is one of Canada's leading fighter bases.
Alan Williams, a former chief of procurement at the Department of National Defense, said the decision was clearly wrong. "It's obviously inappropriate and I'm surprised that this is sanctioned," Williams said. "You have to look like justice and it does not help."
But the Department of Defense noted in a statement that Lockheed Martin did not request that the F-35 aircraft be displayed at the airshow, nor was it invited to do so. Instead, it was the US Air Force who decided to send the F-35 demonstration team to Bagotville, the department said in an e-mail.
DND said the US Super Hornet team was also invited to Bagotville, but did not select it as one of its locations.
"All other aircraft that are part of the competition do not have military demonstration teams in North America," he added.
The decision to allow the F-35 to be displayed contrasts with the way the Department of National Defense reacted to a request by the Danish navy in November 2016 to send one of its frigates to Halifax during the competition to acquire new warships for the Royal Canadian Navy.
The Canadian naval and federal authorities were concerned about the emergence of a conflict of interest, as the Danish vessel project was a potential competitor for the Canadian Surface Combatant program. The Danes canceled the visit.
But members of the defense say the leadership of the Royal Canadian Air Force is closely linked to Lockheed Martin Canada.
Last month, Lockheed Martin asked RCAF to fly one of its Cyclone helicopters to a defense fair in Ottawa to highlight the company's high-tech aerospace capabilities. The RCAF agreed and taxpayers paid $ 25,350 for the helicopter's round trip.
The government is buying 88 new fighter jets to replace the CF-18 fleet in what is fair and open competition.
At this point, four aircraft should be considered: two aircraft built in the US, the F-35 and the Super Hornet, and two European aircraft, Eurofighter Typhoon and Gripen.
The F-35 Stealth Fighter is the RCAF's choice, which recommended to the previous conservative government that the aircraft be purchased.
Conservatives put the purchase on hold after concerns about cost and technology issues associated with jets.
Williams noted that there are already industry concerns that the requirements for Canada's next jet fighter fleet are designed to favor the F-35.
Canada has amended some of the competition's industrial benefit criteria in May to alleviate US government concerns that the F-35 would be penalized or could not be considered because of the program's configuration.
All other aircraft that are part of the competition do not have military demonstration teams in North America.
Industry representatives were also surprised earlier this month when it was revealed by Postmedia that priority would be placed on strategic attack and foreign ground attack capabilities – guidelines that favor the F-35.
After sector officials complained, the government made changes to the package of proposals.
It is not clear whether these changes will be enough to convince other companies that competition will be fair. It will cost each aerospace company about $ 15 million to prepare an offer, but if competition is viewed as fraudulent, several companies may refuse to bid.
Pat Finn, head of the National Defense Acquisitions Department, said on Friday that the final touches were being made in the request for jets proposals. He said federal bureaucrats are still on track to release him to businesses until the middle of July.