Help wanted: Top guns for dogfights with Canada’s CF-18 fighter pilots

’s top guns are in need of some top guns to fight against.

And they’ll get such adversaries by the end of the year.

The Canadian government plans to award by December a contract, estimated to be worth as much as $1.5 billion, to a fleet of fighter jets to go toe-to-toe with the military’s CF-18s.

A private company will be selected to act as the training partner for Canada’s fighter pilots, as well as provide other aircraft to act as the enemy for the Canadian army and navy.

The project, known as the Contracted Airborne Training Services or CATS, will run over an initial 10-year period, followed by the option to continue for another five years.

Canadian Forces Combat Camera/ Department of National DefenceCanadian Forces Combat Camera/ Department of National DefenceA Canadian CF-18 Hornet sits on the tarmac awaiting its next mission during Operation IMPACT in Kuwait in February, 2015.

The Canadian-based Discovery Air Defence has been providing such services for the Canadian military since 2005. It has also expanded its operations internationally and was recently hired to do the same thing for Germany’s .

But the Canadian government wants to open the competition up potentially to other firms. , a spokesman for Public Services and Procurement Canada, said the bids for CATS went in Feb. 16. “The evaluation, which includes aircraft inspection, is expected to take up to five months,” he explained. “The contract is expected to be awarded by the end of 2016.”

Two firms have publicly acknowledged they have submitted bids: Discovery Air Defence of Montreal, and CAE, also from Quebec, which has allied itself with Draken, a U.S. firm.

, vice-president of business development and government relations at Discovery Air Defence, said the company pioneered the concept in Canada of such airborne services and is now considered an industry leader throughout the world.

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“We’ve flown more than 55,000 hours in support of the Canadian and German militaries,” he said. “We’ve got the experience of doing it for the last 11 years.”

Discovery Air Defence traces its lineage to 2001, when it was founded by three former CF-18 pilots.

The firm has what is considered the world’s largest fleet of operational fighter jets in private hands. The company is now looking to acquire U.S.-built F-16 fighters for more advanced training.

“We’re poised for significant growth,” Venman said. “We’re doing all the things the Canadian government says it wants Canadian companies to do — creating jobs and conducting business internationally.”

, vice-president and general manager of CAE Canada, said his company is experienced in delivering training systems while Draken, based in Florida, can provide the aircraft.

Department of National DefenceDepartment of National DefenceA Canadian CF-18 fighter aircraft refuels in the air.

CAE and Draken are also proposing to conduct research and development for future ways to deliver such services, including involving simulation, Greenley said.

The company hopes being selected for the Canadian contract will set the stage for winning other international competitions for such training services. “This collaboration with Draken is the spark of a global relationship,” he said.

CATS will provide aircraft to the Canadian Forces to simulate hostile threats for ground and naval forces as well as fighter pilots. The winning firm will also provide aircraft to tow targets and carry electronic warfare systems for various training scenarios, according to the information supplied by Public Services and Procurement Canada to industry.

The winning bidder is required not only to provide planes and pilots but also maintenance crews and engineering support. The Canadian government estimates that aircraft operated by the winning bidder will have to fly between 2,500 and 3,500 hours a year.

Canadian Forces Combat Camera/ Department of National Defence Canadian Forces Combat Camera/ Department of National Defence Ground crew perform post flight checks on a Canadian CF-18 fighter jet in Kuwait after a sortie over Iraq during Operation IMPACT in November, 2014.

The majority of services will be provided in Victoria; Cold Lake, Alta.; Bagotville, Que; and Halifax. Other training flights could take place outside Canada, including in the U.S. and Mexico.

Venman said the company’s contract with the German military helps set the stage to offer other NATO nations similar services.

Greenley said CAE has a global presence that will serve it well to support any such deals it wins.

Public Services and Procurement Canada confirmed to Postmedia that three bids have been received for CATS. However, because of its procurement rules, the federal department does not identify the names of bidders. At this point it is unclear which other firm entered the competition.

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