UPDATED 9 January 2019 with defence statement
Canadian media has reported the sale of 25 former RAAF F/A-18A/B classic Hornets to Canada has been finalised and the transfer of the aircraft will commence this year.
The January 3 report in Canada’s National Post says 18 RAAF Hornets will be acquired by Canada to bolster the Royal Canadian Air Forces’ own CF-18 Hornet flying ranks, while an additional seven aircraft will be acquired for spares and testing.
“The first two aircraft will be here this (northern) spring,” Canada’s assistant deputy minister for materiel, Pat Finn told Postmedia.
“I would say it could be by the (northern) summer the first couple are on the flight line and painted with the maple leaf.”
The report says the acquisition cost of the aircraft is C$90m (A$95m), while a total of C$500m (A$525m) has been budgeted for the acquisition which will also include spares and the fitting of unspecified “Canadian-specific equipment” and upgrades.
Canada’s CF-18s are of a similar configuration to those of the RAAF, having undergone an extensive upgrade in the late 1990s and early 2000s to a configuration similar to that of Australia’s multi-phased AIR 5375 Hornet Upgrade Program (HUG). Canadian CF-18s are fitted with a spotlight on the forward port fuselage, and there are minor differences in the weapons carried and in operational flight program software.
Canada’s Trudeau Liberal government froze the country’s planned acquisition of about 90 F-35As when it came to power in late 2014, and instead looked to acquire 18 F/A-18E/F Super Hornets as an interim capability while it conducted a competitive evaluation for a permanent fighter replacement. Canada remains a JSF partner nation pending the outcome of the evaluation.
But the Super Hornet acquisition was cancelled in 2017 in response to a complaint by Boeing to the US Commerce Department over what it said were unfair Canadian Government subsidies of commercial manufacturer Bombardier’s new C Series airliner (now the Airbus A220). Boeing’s complaint was subsequently dismissed by the US federal trade tribunal in early 2018, while the C Series line was sold to Airbus.
In November 2018 a Canadian Auditor General report found that the purchase of the RAAF aircraft would not fix what it said was a declining combat capability and an overall shortage of pilots and support personnel.
“The Australian F/A-18s will need modifications and upgrades to allow them to fly until 2032,” the report reads.
“These modifications will bring the F/A-18s to the same level as the CF-18s but will not improve the CF-18’s combat capability.”
“In our opinion, purchasing interim aircraft does not bring National Defence closer to consistently meeting the new operational requirement introduced in 2016.”
In the meantime, Canada plans to complete its competitive evaluation in 2020, with the first of 80 new fighter aircraft scheduled to enter service in 2025. The current contenders include the F-35, the Super Hornet, the Saab JAS-39E/F Gripen, and the Eurofighter Typhoon. Dassault withdrew its Rafale fighter from the evaluation in late 2018 over reports it could not meet Canada’s strict industry offset requirements.
UPDATE – In a response to questions from Australian Aviation, Defence has provided the following statement:
“Under the current arrangement, if the full scope of aircraft is acquired, the sale price is worth up to A$95m and includes a range of spare parts and equipment as agreed with Canada.
“The transfer schedule runs from the first half of 2019 through to the final quarter of 2021 pending the availability of aircraft. Canada has a comprehensive local support system for their existing aircraft and Australian industry will be involved in readying the aircraft for transfer to Canada.”