Thanks To Some Questionable Planning, Canada Will Fly the Same F-18 Jets for 50 Years
Ottawa will pick a successor to take over in 2032. Maybe. Spoiler: It’s almost certainly the F-35.
By Kyle Mizokami
Jan 31, 2018
Canada plans to keep flying its fleet of F/A-18A Hornet fighters into the early 2030s, by which time the oldest of these planes will be more than a half-century old by retirement, which would make them some of the oldest fighters in the industrialized world. Known as CF-18s in Canadian service, the jets were delivered in the early 1980s and are Ottawa’s only fighter jets.
According to the National Post, Canada will select a new fighter in 2022 to enter service in 2032. The current government in Ottawa is dead-set against buying the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, but because of their own decision to kick the can down the road, they may be forced to choose it. Although aircraft such as the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and F-15 Eagle may still be production, by the early 2020s the only fighter truly “future proofed” will be the F-35.
Canada purchased 138 Hornets in the early 1980s to patrol the country’s vast airspace and fulfill NATO obligations. Although the planes never saw combat against the Soviet Union, they have participated in the 1991 Persian Gulf War, combat operations in the Balkans in the 1990s, the 2011 Libya intervention, and the war against the Islamic State. It’s safe to say that Canada got its money’s worth from the fighter jets.
In 1997, when the planes were only an average of 15 years old, Canada moved to become a multinational partner in the Joint Strike Fighter program. Although Ottawa had not officially selected the F-35 as the replacement for the CF-18, it wanted to get in on the ground floor so that it could acquire the jets more quickly if Canada decided to pull the trigger. Canada spent about $373 million to remain a partner without technically ordering a single plane.
In 2010, the government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced the planned purchase of 65 F-35s without an open competition. The lack of competition, the cost of the plane, and the F-35’s much-publicized problems irked many. When current Prime Minister Justin Trudeau came to power in 2015, he did so on a promise to cancel the order and purchase more cost-effective aircraft. The 18-year plan to buy the F-35 came to nothing.
Under the original plan as outlined by Defense Industry Daily, Canada’s first F-35s would have become operational this year. Now, the Trudeau government says the CF-18 will fly on without a replacement until 2032. According to the National Post, Canada has set aside $405 million to purchase 18 Royal Australian Air Force F/A-18 Hornets that are virtually identical to Canada’s. For its part, Australia declared these old jets to be surplus, replacing them with...the F-35.
If this sounds like a last-ditch plan, you should know that it is. Another plan to purchase a handful of F/A-18 Super Hornets fell through when the manufacturer, Boeing, accused Canada of subsidizing its competitor Bombardier in the civil aviation market. Boeing not only lost the trade dispute but also fell out of favor with the Canadian government, which killed the Super Hornet deal.
It's too bad. The Super Hornet was a good pick for Canada. Royal Canadian Air Force pilots and maintainers could smoothly transition from Hornet to Super Hornet, and much of the equipment, particularly bombs and missiles, could be recycled. It would also be interoperable with U.S. forces, which would almost certainly be a part of any campaign that involves Canadian fighters. Unfortunately, it’s just not happening.
All of this makes you wonder: If Canada needs new fighters now, why doesn’t it just buy the F-35 (or any other new fighter) now? It’s not like some new, magical fighter plane will appear between 2018 and 2022 to solve all of Canada’s problems.
It’s not all bad news, though: a new government in Ottawa could accelerate new fighter plans or make nice with Boeing. Furthermore, the longer Canada waits, the cheaper the F-35 gets, both in aircraft and maintenance costs.
Original post: popularmechanics.com
CF-18 Hornet: Details