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IMP joins bid to assemble Canada's new fighter jets in Nova Scotia

Gripen E carries Meteor
A Gripen E fighter jet carries a Meteor missile. - Saab

Ken Rowe wants to assemble the next generation of Canadian fighter jets right here in Nova Scotia.

His IMP Group is part of a consortium bidding to put together and maintain 88 of Saab’s Gripen fighter jets at his company’s massive hangar near Halifax Stanfield International Airport to serve as Canada's next wave of fighter jets. The $19-billion future fighter procurement program aims to replace the Royal Canadian Air Force’s existing fleet of CF-18 Hornets.

“We have to win the competition first of course,” said Rowe, IMP's founder and executive chairman.

“But if we win, they will be ... assembled in our large new hangar at the airport.”

It wouldn’t make sense to set up a factory here to build less than 100 Gripens, he said.

“But a lot of the parts will be made here in our shops, where it makes sense, and the whole aircraft assembled here,” Rowe said Wednesday in a telephone interview. 

Other fighters in the race include Lockheed Martin’s F-35 and Boeing’s Super Hornet. Stephen Harper’s Conservative government had chosen the F-35, but then backed away from the plan over concerns about the technology and mounting cost.

The F-35A. This particular plane is the first one produced for the Israeli Air Force. - Beth Steele / Lockheed Martin
The F-35A. This particular plane is the first one produced for the Israeli Air Force. - Beth Steele / Lockheed Martin

“We should have the lowest price,” Rowe said of the Gripen. “And it’s a cold weather aircraft that’s a very popular one.”

The feds are slated to choose the winning bidder in 2022, with the first jets to be delivered three years after that.

“I don’t access all the politics that goes on in these decisions because everyone and their dog gets involved,” Rowe said. “The military will have a quiet say of what aircraft they want and it will come down to the competitive issue of price and technical qualifications.”

IMP, which employs about 2,000 people in Nova Scotia, hasn’t worked out yet how many people it would need to add to its labour force here to assemble the fighter jets.

“There would be quite a large hiring,” Rowe said. “But until they work out what exactly are we expected to do, this is very early days.”

During the 2015 election campaign, Justin Trudeau said his government would not purchase the F-35, instead opting for an open competition for the fighter purchase. 

But the Liberals later backed away from the promise to freeze out the F-35 and the jets are now seen as a front-runner in the competition. Many of Canada's allies plan to operate the plane. 

“I like our position because we don’t need a stealth aircraft in Canada,” Rowe said. “The F-35 is a stealth aircraft. You pay a lot for that. It’s a bigger aircraft and it’s not what Canada really needs. We defend our country. We don’t go out attacking other countries with stealth aircraft. … We’re a quiet country that minds our own business.”

IMP already maintains several different Canadian military helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft.

"We're a major defence contractor in Canada but we don't go preaching it every day to the public," Rowe said. 

He’s confident IMP would be able to find skilled workers capable of assembling the Swedish fighters here. 

“We never take on a project that we can’t complete on time and within the budget asked of us,” he said. 

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