Canada considering RAAF classic Hornets?

The Canadian government is considering the acquisition of soon-to-be-retired Royal Australian Air Force F/A-18 classic Hornets to bolster its own fleet of CF-18A/B Hornets, a September 6 media report claims.

The online report in the Globe and Mail says the RAAF jets are being considered as an interim capability boost in lieu of a permanent replacement for Canada’s classic Hornets being selected. It says a Canadian delegation travelled to Australia in August to begin discussions about the possibility of taking some of the RAAF’s jets as they are retired from service.

The RAAF’s 3SQN is expected to begin swapping its F/A-18A/Bs for F-35As from late next year. As the F-35 enters service, the Hornet fleet will be consolidated. 3SQN will be followed by 2OCU, 77SQN and 75SQN at roughly one-year intervals, and all RAAF Hornets are expected to have been retired by 2022.

Canada remains a founding partner nation of the multi-national Joint Strike Fighter program, and had previously stated a requirement for 65 F-35As. But after many years of delays with that program, the current Justin Trudeau-led government was elected on a platform that included an undertaking to halt its F-35 acquisition and to conduct a competitive evaluation of other combat aircraft.

In 2016, Canada requested an interim buy of Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornets to complement its ageing CF-18s until the competitive evaluation could be completed. Despite approvals for the acquisition through the US Defence Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA), the Super Hornet deal is yet to be signed, and more recently Canada has threatened to abandon it altogether due to a complaint in the International Trade Commission by Boeing against Montreal-based Bombardier.

Boeing has alleged Bombardier sold a number of its new CS100 regional airliners to Delta Air Lines at heavily discounted prices or below cost price due to heavy Canadian government subsidies. Bombardier and the Canadian government have denied the charge, and in response Canada says it is reviewing the Super Hornet deal.

“Canada is reviewing current military procurement that relates to Boeing, as Boeing is pursuing unfair and aggressive trade action against the Canadian aerospace sector,” a September 5 statement from Prime Minister Trudeau’s office reads.

“Meanwhile, Boeing receives billions in support from US federal, state and municipal governments.”

Canada was the first nation outside of the US to operate the classic Hornet, ordering 138 F/A-18A/Bs in 1980 to be designated CF-188 in service, but more commonly designated CF-18. The first CF-18 entered service in 1982, and the order was completed in 1988.

The CF-18 fleet underwent a two phased Incremental Modernisation Program (IMP) starting in the late 1990s, which brought them up to an equivalent of the US Marine Corps F/A-18A/B+ and the RAAF’s F/A-18A/B HUG standards. About 50 CF-18s have been withdrawn from service through attrition and fleet consolidation, leaving about 80 in service currently.

It is unclear whether the former RAAF jets would be acquired as operational aircraft or as a source of spares. The average airframe life of the RAAF’s Hornets are only about two years less than the CF-18s, and the best of these are likely to be the last retired.


  1. Tomcat Terry says

    Clever move. by the Canadians be it for spares or a ex Aussie Hornet operational squadron.
    The Canadians are smart with their country’s tax funded defence acquisitions and not pushed into any deal by the US.
    Probably go for the Swedish Grippens as interim until the 6th Gen fighters start to surface.

  2. Matthew East says

    @Tomcat Terry

    Wait until 6th gen aircraft start to surface? So they will retain 4th gen aircraft for decades waiting on a maybe? Yea they also retained a lot of obsolete equipment else where and today the CDF is not well regarded in it’s capabilities (Due to equipment, Not personnel training)

  3. says

    Tomcat Terry , I wouldn’t say they are smart with their defence budget , more like no clue and very tight. They are not protecting their own people by constantly cutting funding. I think having a full and open fighter tender is a smart move though. My guess is the will go with the F-35 anyway.

  4. RVR says

    Puzzling that the RCAF Hornet loss rate has been far higher than the RAAF’s – which at four, all due to human error, and none to technical failure – is truly indicative of outstanding management imho.

  5. John N says

    I have no problem with selling retired Classic Hornets to our Canuck Cousins, but NOT until sufficient F-35A Squadrons are operational, and even then, I’d prefer to see the ‘best’ of the airframes kept here until all four F-35A Squadrons are operational, and that is late 2023, best to have an insurance policy that you already own.

    The bigger issue here, is that Canada is stuck in a perpetual loop and can’t get it’s act together in deciding on a permanent replacement for their Classic fleet, which is on average a few years older than our own.

    All a handful of ex RAAF Classic Hornets is going to do is put off making a final decision for a few more years, eg, let the next Canadian Government deal with the problem!


    John N

  6. rpaps5 says

    Tomcat Terry,
    They and we have already waited for 2 decades for an inferior 5th gen offering from the US how will another wait be so much more damning? The F35 is far from the only fighter available, just take off the stars-and-stripes tinted glasses and look!
    Australia would do well to defer any further fighter purchases until it becomes clearer what the timeline and capability will be for 6th gen equipment.
    The current one is a dud. To this day it has NOT met 1 of it’s original performance targets!! The US just keep re-base lining the project and reducing the performance targets until they eventually get to a point where the F35 can actually achieve a target.

  7. jasonp says

    So this is obviously going to degenerate into another F-35 bashing exercise.

    Can’t we just keep the comments on subject, just for once?

  8. jasonp says

    JohnN – the RAAF wouldn’t be silly enough to divest itself of the classic Hornets until the F-35 has achieved IOC and is well on its way to FOC. Don’t forget we have the Super Hornets as well – it’s going to be very difficult to operate three fast jet types concurrently for more than a couple of years, so better to retire the classics at the earliest opportunity.

    Regardless of your opinion of the political situation in Canada (we’re not much better here), surely it would be better for a number of the classics to go to Canada to support the CF-18 fleet rather than be buried in a hole somewhere like the F-111s were. A few will be retained for museums and gate guards etc, but the vast majority will likely be stripped of any useful or sensitive equipment, and then scrapped.

  9. PAUL says

    Hmmm didn’t see that coming… interesting all round. I guess any country that’s flanked by the US on 2 sides, a huge block of ice & 2 oceans on the others isn’t really in a hurry?…. oh by the way those last low time airframes to go wont be bought by the RNZAF they will probably have surplus Singaporean F16’s 😉 🙂

  10. says

    rpaps 5 , that’s what I have been saying for a long time mate and fully agree. Just because it’s stealth ( which isn’t the be all and end all , and we will most likely get a dumbed down and less stealthier than the US) It just astounds me how the 35 fanboys are jumping up and down, sideways etc , and probably even think it can fly to the moon and back. Give me a BLK 111 Rhino with ÉPÉ engines and be done with it.

  11. John N says


    Mate, I think you have misinterpreted what I was saying.

    I’m certainly not suggesting that the RAAF operate three different types concurrently (and at full capacity) until the end of transition from Classic Hornet to F-35A for the four Squadrons.

    What I’m simply saying is that we should ‘not’ dispose of the Classic airframes until all of the F-35A fleet is operational. Which has been ‘normal’ practice in the past, eg when the transition from Mirage III to Classic Hornet occurred, and previously when the transition from Sabre to Mirage III occurred too.

    As in the past, the previous fleet is ‘progressively parked’ and then at the end of the transition, those airframes are disposed of, eg, either sold on or scrapped, whichever is appropriate.

    So again, more than happy for Canada to purchase those ‘retired/parked’ airframes, but not until we are completely finished with them, ok?

    And as far as the politics in Canada (and I’ve followed Canadian politics in relation to Defence for many years), they are much worse than here, seriously!

    Regardless of what we think of our politicians (and I don’t think much of them either), they never agree on anything, but they for the most part they agree on ‘defence’, for the most part we have a bipartisan approach to defence here, both sides usually support the other when it comes to defence acquisitions, I can’t remember the last time one side threatened to cancel a procurement decision of the other side.

    Canada is the complete opposite, both sides use defence procurement decisions to bang the other side over the head with, hence both sides are too scared to make decisions and why the replacement of their Classic Hornet fleet (just one example), is a never ending hot potato, it’s always easier for their ‘current’ Government to find a way to ‘defer’ the decision to the following Government.


    John N

  12. Philip says

    Seems Kuwait is also keen to offload their legacy hornets as well (as they will be getting Rhinos soon), so the Canadians are having a look at them too. If the Canadians choose legacy hornet as an interim measure the AU jets would probably be least costly to integrate as they have been upgraded to similar specifications as the current CF-18s.

    Kind of think the Canadians should take a look at Grower-wired Rhinos as the real interim answer, to give them the flexibility to repurpose them as Growlers later – when they finally make a decision on their next fighter. It would be reasonable to expect that the US would look favourably on Canada with that EW role, particularly with their NATO obligations.

    Nevertheless, the saga over the Canadian’s “decision” for their frontline fighter is a staggering tale …!

  13. Steve says

    Janes says RCAF are looking at RAAF Super Hornets – not classics. RAAF Chief said last year RAAF intended to have an all 5th Gen force by 2025 which implies getting rid of our Super Hornets about then.

  14. says

    Steve , I would say getting rid of the Rhinos would be a bad choice. Always good to have a backup! Buy another 30 Rhinos and just have 3 squadrons of F-35s! Cheers.

  15. Tomcat Terry says

    What are the Canadians in a hurry for?
    NATO obligations???
    Last I saw In Afghanistan and Iraq where Canadian special forces and spattering of army engineers and troops.
    They know full well how to play the game of playing politics, delay, delay, make the other side look bad but they also know the Yanks will never let an invading force be it by land, air or sea occupy territory next to them.
    Canadians are smart and using thir limited resources wisely with increase in potential navy frigate size.
    Classic and Super Hornets will serve them well a little longer until like I said before, they get a leap frog into the 6th gen fighters.
    5th gen will be obsolete by the time they (and us for that matter) field F35 squadrons.
    They realised several years ago this old fashioned notion of large asset acquisitions over long gestation periods is totally fruitless where the enemies of the western world are not restricted to beauracratic development red tape and long long long project processes.
    Go for it Canada! Save a buck, get your navy back on track and worry about your Air Force later.
    The Americans have your back ha ha ha!

  16. Josh James says

    I think the biggest problem being overlooked here is that the Canadian government backed out of a deal for potentially one of the most devastating and game-changing aircraft under development. Giving into the pressure of a pole rather than taking a good hard look at the reality of the situation. The Classic Hornet has served both countries well but buying a 30 to 40 year old airframe when you could have been taking delivery of a gen 5 power house, if they do this the list of dumbest decisions ever taken by a government will have a new addition

  17. Christiaan says

    This is a smart move the extend the life of the CF18 fleet with either flying or spare parts of the RAAF aircraft. With regards to the replacement of the CF18s long term the Super Hornet would be a stupid purchase. It makes sense to spend all of their funds on one platform whatever that platform would be. It makes no sense to have a few Super Hornets laying around with whatever CF fighter they have as their main fighter coming later.

  18. jasonp says

    Steve – I think Jane’s might have it wrong. A decision on Phase 2C isn’t due until 2023-24 which means our Super Hornets won’t be available until 2027 at the earliest. And then Canada would need a 2-3 year integration and workup, so by 2030 Canada’s remaining CF-18s will be 42-48 years old!!! It has to happen sooner than that.

    Phillip – the Kuwaiti Hornets are early model F/A-18Cs. While they have had a fairly gentle life compared to Canada’s and ours, unless they were going to be used for spares I suspect they might be difficult to integrate into a small force due to commonality differences.

    JohnN – again, I doubt the RAAF will dispose of any assets until they have been well and truly replaced. My politics comment was an apparently unsuccessful attempt to keep politics OUT of this comment thread.

  19. says

    Josh James , the most devastating and game changing aircraft ? Gen 5 powerhouse? what do you mean by this? Christian , why would a BLK 111 Rhino be a stupid choice? Cheers.

  20. harry says

    RAAF and Defence would be blind idiots to get rid of the Growlers! They are a multiplier, even to the F-35. Their AW, esp. w/ the NGJ can target with great precision and force, cover a wider spectrum and over a wider area.

  21. Patrick Alford says

    Planes inevitably wear out and need replacement. It’s strange the Canadians seem to be ignoring this basic rule.

  22. Beepa says

    Why would a Super super hornet be a bad decision??lets see.. What if we had to go to Korea you actually think that most of the pilots we send will come home to their families if flying Hornets?? Do you actually think the US will try a “Package Q” type strike and shrug off the losses?….or will reality prevail and B1’s, B2’s,F22’s and F35’s lead the way??? Your Supers are great at destroying sand castles but operating in a high threat environment means high attrition, not good for anyone. As for EPE engines, I hope you will fund it cause I haven’t seen any interest from USN so far.

  23. Josh James says

    Paul, I honestly think that the F-35 is going to change the way multi-role aircraft are defined, much in the same way that the Raptor did to the air dominance game. Block 3F software will bring just a taste of what is to come, with a rapid expansion of the envelope of what it can do in the next few years. The point is also that Canada looking to go to gen 6 aircraft from the CF-18/C-Rhino would be like trying to go from a Meteor to an F-4. They had the opportunity to be at the forefront of development and to benefit their own economy but chose to save votes rather than win wars. Didn’t they also promise to have a clear and fair selection process to replace their Hornets but were found to be in deep talks with Boeing at the same time?

  24. PAUL says

    ‘The F5 doesn’t have the thrust to weight ratio of the Mig 28….’ ‘ if you select Zone 5 you can extend & escape…’

  25. Mick181 says

    Paul what he the F-5s a 60yo aircraft design out of production since the 70s got to do with this discussion and what in name of heaven is a Mig 28 heard of Migs 15,17,19,21,23,25,27,29,31 & 35s but never a 28.

  26. PAUL says

    Haha got ya!… those were quotes from the Movie Topgun. for a bit of fun around this discussion. So correct the Mig28 doesn’t exist it was a fictional jet in the movie portrayed by a few F5’s painted black. & Zone 5 is full afterburner in an F14 Tomcat.

  27. says

    Beeps , the F-35 with a price tag of 100 million a piece to deliver two LGBs or JADAMS? How many sorties will it have to fly to destroy everything? I know the B-2 and B-1 will drop most of them but seriously? Are you telling me that a BLK111 or 11 super can’t win a fight against a rusted out mig 21? The supers have more than proved their worth over the years. If it came to a conflict , I’m pretty sure China or Russia would deploy there latest AAA Sams system as a test against all platforms you suggested. What good will stealth do when they know your in the area anyway. Last but not least , the F-22 and B-2 are more stealthy than the 35 , so the F-35 would get shot down before them.

  28. says

    Beepa, just another thing , I was reading about the EPE ( don’t remember the article now) , but with its CFTs and other added weight , this would be a no brainer. I don’t think it will cost much to add additional thrust to the existing 414s. I think one problem with the Rhino is its underpowered. Cheers.

  29. PAUL says

    The EPE engine evolved out of the GE F414 – EDE program (Enhanced Durability Engine) 15% greater thrust or same thrust with longer life-which uses an advanced core, so cost would be for an engine kit if older version can be retrofitted, else it will be a new engine.. Saab are looking at this version as an upgrade to F414 powered Gripen NG which I think Canada had a look at.

  30. Mick181 says

    The old Chestnut of the Anti JSF crowd, take the internal load of a F-35 compare it to the External load of a Shornet and tell the world how bad the F-35 is.
    News Guys, the F-35 also has External hard points.
    The total internal & external load for the F-35 aprox 8t
    The total external load for the SHornet approx 8t
    The total internal load for the Shornet a big fat 0.
    The F-35 with a 8t load will still have far better LO and far more importantly will still have far better situational awareness than a Shornet.
    You can add all the thrust to a Shornet you like it will not out run or out manoeuvre a Mach 4, 40g AAM.

  31. says

    Mick181 , how is my pro F-35 Chestnut going? the 35 wither external stores will still light up like a Christmas tree. True the Shornet can’t outrun a Mach 4 AAM same as an F-35. Cheers.

  32. harry says

    Jason – Yes; “RAAF intended to have an all 5th Gen force by 2025 which implies getting rid of our Super Hornets about then” – Since when is a growler a fifth-gen?

  33. says

    Harry, the Growler will only enhance the capabilities of our new platforms. It is a very unique platform so you could say it is in one way. Cheers.

  34. says

    Harry, I’m understanding your point but was trying to say it will provide our 5th gen enablers with extra lethality. Yes it is a 4+++ gen platform. Cheers.