Canada’s Auditor General has criticised a plan to acquire between 18 and 25 second-hand RAAF F/A-18A/B Hornets for the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) from 2019.
Auditor General Michael Ferguson found in a report that Canada lacks the pilots and maintenance personnel to support and operate Canada’s existing fleet of about 80 CF-18s, let alone extra aircraft.
Canada requested the aircraft after it paused its planned F-35A acquisition in 2014 and then cancelled an interim buy of 18 Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornets in 2017.
The retiring RAAF aircraft are only a few years younger than Canada’s CF-18s, and in the past decade and a half they have been upgraded to a similar standard. The combined fleet is expected to serve until a replacement enters service around 2030, making the youngest CF-18 or F/A-18A/B more than 50 years old by then.
“The government is now planning to buy used fighter aircraft from Australia that are the same age and have the same operational limitations as the CF-18s that the Royal Canadian Air Force are currently flying,” the report notes.
“Over and above existing budgets, National Defence expects to spend almost $3 billion on extending the life of the current fleet and to buy, operate, and maintain the interim aircraft, without a plan to deal with its biggest obstacles to meeting the new operational requirement: a shortage of pilots and the declining combat capability of its aircraft. Although National Defence has plans to address some risks, these investment decisions will not be enough to ensure that it can have the number of aircraft available daily to meet the highest NORAD alert level and Canada’s NATO commitment at the same time.”
The report stressed the capability risks of continuing to operate an ageing fighter type.
“Flying the CF-18 until 2032 without a plan to upgrade combat capability will result in less important roles for the fighter force and will pose a risk to Canada’s ability to contribute to NORAD and NATO operations,” the report says.
“Without combat upgrades, the CF-18 will be less effective against adversaries in domestic and international operations.”
National Defence does not have a plan to deal with its biggest obstacles: a shortage of pilots and the declining combat capability of its aircraft. #cdnpoli https://t.co/zlMuRZDWcH pic.twitter.com/n3vh5rldMC
— Office of the Auditor General of Canada (@OAG_BVG) November 20, 2018
Canadian Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan said recently the RCAF was looking at what further upgrades could be made to the CF-18 fleet including new weapons and self-defence systems, and that the former RAAF aircraft would be further upgraded.
Canada is also conducting a competitive evaluation of several aircraft types to ultimately replace its CF-18s, the youngest of which was built in 1988. The new aircraft it is evaluating include the F-35, the F/A-18E/F, the Saab JAS-39E/F Gripen, and the Eurofighter.
Dassault recently withdrew its Rafale from the competition after deciding it couldn’t meet Canada’s industry offset requirements.