Canada is studying acquiring Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornets as an interim partial replacement for the country’s ageing CF-18A/B ‘classic’ Hornets.
The Ottawa Citizen newspaper reported in early June that the new Canadian government is considering acquiring Super Hornets to cover a looming capability gap to partially replace the Royal Canadian Air Force’s 77 CF-18s and then defer any acquisition of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter by a decade.
Canada’s new Liberal government promised ahead of its election in 2015 that it would not go ahead with the acquisition of the F-35, so deferring, rather than cancelling the purchase of F-35s and buying a smaller number of Super Hornets as a partial replacement for the CF-18 is reported as a way of meeting that election promise while minimising the loss of industrial work and avoiding potential legal action that could come from withdrawing outright from the JSF program.
“We are looking at a gap — that’s [what] we have to deal with. And these jets should have been replaced a long time ago,” Canadian Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan told media on June 7.
“We’re in options analysis, looking at the capabilities required. We’re actively looking at replacing the F-18.”
So far Canada’s aerospace industry has won F-35 work contracts worth C$750 million.
But F-35 prime contractor Lockheed Martin’s vice-president of F-35 business development, Jack Crisler, told the Ottawa Citizen last week that: “There’s not an entitlement to future contracts unless you’re buying aircraft.”
In a separate interview with The Canadian Press news agency, Crisler noted, “Right now, all we want to do is to be able to compete.
“So if we get told that we’re not allowed to compete, then we’ll go and evaluate all of our alternatives at that point. But right now all we’re asking to do is be able to compete in a fair, open, transparent and requirements-based competition for the replacement of the CF-18s.”
Australia, of course, acquired 24 F/A-18F Super Hornets late last decade to bridge a capability gap between the retirement of the RAAF’s F-111s and the arrival of the F-35.
But unlike in Australia, where the acquisition of the F-35 to replace the RAAF’s classic Hornets has bipartisan political support, in Canada the aircraft’s acquisition is highly contentious.
“Canadians know full well that for 10 years, the Conservatives completely missed the boat when it came to delivering to Canadians and their armed forces the equipment they needed,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told his country’s parliament on June 7.
“They clung to an aircraft [the F-35] that does not work and is far from working.”
Canada’s equivalent of the shadow minister for Defence, Conservative defence critic James Bezan has accused the Liberal government of breaking a promise to run a competition for the RCAF’s next fighter.
“The Liberals have broken their promise for a fair and transparent competition to replace our CF-18s and are sole-sourcing the Boeing Super Hornet instead,” Bezan said last week. “Maybe we should not be surprised. Boeing officials have met 10 times since February with senior political staff.”
Under then Prime Minister Stephen Harper Canada’s former Conservative government had committed to acquire 65 F-35As to replace the RCAF’s CF-18s.
In December 2014 a Conservative government-appointed expert panel found that “there was no need to pursue a bridging option,” as “it is possible, with certain investments, to fly the CF-18 to 2025 and even beyond.”