The Canadian Government Has Dropped Its Original Plan to Buy Super Hornets for The RCAF

The Royal Canadian Air Force might have to wait a little longer to receive a replacement for its rapidly-aging CF-188 Legacy Hornets, thanks to the Justin Trudeau-led government dropping its apparent plan to buy the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet as its successor. In early June, an unnamed source revealed to the National Post that the Canadian government had already selected the Super Hornet in lieu of the Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II, albeit without initiating the fighter competition it had previously promised. This source, a figure within the government, claimed that all that remained to be done was the drafting of a narrative that would support this decision, so as to protect over $750 million worth of contracts offered to Canada due to the country’s earlier support of the F-35 program.

In 2015, during the run-up to the October elections in Canada, Justin Trudeau’s campaign platform included a definite promise to not buy the F-35 Lightning II under any circumstance:

We will not buy the F-35 stealth fighter-bomber.

We will immediately launch an open and transparent competition to replace the CF-18 fighter aircraft. The primary mission of our fighter aircraft should remain the defence of North America, not stealth first-strike capability.We will reduce the procurement budget for replacing the CF-18s, and will instead purchase one of the many, lower-priced options that better match Canada’s defence needs.

Following the election of Trudeau and the Liberal Party to power, however, the “open and transparent competition” never actually materialized. The party’s stance on the F-35 was softened significantly as well. Defense minister Harjit Sajjan, in a conference call last December remarked:

“My focus is about replacing our CF-18, and we’re going through a proper process to make sure we have the right requirements so we have the right capability, not only for our country but for how we relate to NORAD (North American Aerospace Defense Command) and our commitments to NATO,” says Sajjan, who assumed the role in November following a change of government … We’re going to do this in a responsible manner.”

When news broke in June of this year that the Canadian government was focusing its attention on the Super Hornet, it was thought that the purchase of those F/A-18E/Fs would be classified as an “interim buy”, meaning that it would only temporarily replace the Legacy Hornet until a long-term solution could be discerned and bought, similar to what the Royal Australian Air Force had done with its own Hornet fleet. Former Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper weighed in on the affair:

Now, instead of buying the Super Hornet, the Canadian Department of National Defence (DND) is moving to enact their previous plan by opening up that “transparent” competition between defense contractors like Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Dassault, Saab, and Airbus, in order to determine the best aircraft suited towards Canada’s needs going forward. This comes after Lockheed Martin warned the Canadian government that its failure to maintain its previous commitment to the F-35 could potentially result in a retraction of all contracts, and possibly even a very costly lawsuit against the government. It’s extremely possible that, in a competition with other manufacturers, the F-35 will actually come out on top, as it has in Korea, Denmark, and Japan, against fighter offerings from Boeing and Saab, which currently offer the most cost-effective 4.5 generation fighter aircraft on the market today outside of Russia.

Sajjan noted that the RCAF, at the moment, suffers a large capability gap which hinders its ability to appropriately maintain its commitments to NATO and to NORAD, the joint American/Canadian air-defense alliance. When asked for a time frame on the matter of procuring new fighters to replace the CF-188, he stated: “It all depends on a lot of the information that we do collect, but it is going to be months, not years, definitely, because of the urgency for this”, which could potentially still point to the F-35 being unable to compete, as the A-model of the F-35, the variant Canada previously decided to procure, will not be fully operational and in mass production until next year. Boeing’s Super Hornet, the Dassault Rafale, and the Saab Gripen, are all in production at this point, and are within Canada’s presumed price range. The Eurofighter Typhoon could be precluded by virtue of its cost alone.

Copyright: Alan Kenny, 2016.

The requirements for the new fighter will also be rewritten, as the current government believes that the initial operational requirements were drafted to favor only the F-35 above other possible replacement fighters. Given that Canadian fighters haven’t flown air-to-air operations since the Persian Gulf War (i.e. 1990), and that the vast majority of Canadian military operations over the past twenty years feature air-to-ground operations, the new requirements would necessarily  favor an aircraft that is optimized towards flying such missions, but also capable of flying air-to-air, as the RCAF cannot afford a multi-fighter fleet like the US Air Force, or the Royal Air Force. However, the F-35 still fits the bill, as it is designed as a strike fighter from the ground up.

The next few months will be pivotal in determining a proper course of action for the RCAF, though a replacement for the CF-188 could be shelved for the time being, given the costly overhaul the Royal Canadian Navy will be undertaking over the course of the next few years, with the retirement of combat vessels and the building of new frigates to supersede them.



8 thoughts on “The Canadian Government Has Dropped Its Original Plan to Buy Super Hornets for The RCAF

  1. The Gripen E is not in production.

    LM builds an F-35 every week, the French build a Rafale every six weeks. Probably the same for Typhoons, although they are busy finally putting in a modern AESA radar so might be busy. Boeing is On the edge of shutting own the SH line

    The F-35 is the lowest priced and by far the most capable mulrirole aircraft available. It is the most tested aircraft in history, just about to enter full production and will be fully supported for at least the next 40 years.

    Justin’s election promise was riddled with factual innacuracies, a childish understanding of the use of stealth and a remarkable level of ignorance of what the RCAFuses such aircraft for.


    1. “F-35 is the lowest priced” Pardon? I’m sorry that’s the first time I’ve seen someone use the “lowest price” and “F-35” in the same sentence since the JSF program before LM won the contract.


      1. All things considered, including the eventual inevitable 5 gen replacement for a 4.5 generation fighter (i.e. the Gripen), he’s not wrong. The F-35’s 60 year viable lifespan is also a big factor in its long-term cost effectiveness.


      2. I’m terrifically late to the party Blaine, but if you want to look at USAF budget items, the 2015 total-procurement cost (engine, airframe, avionics, training) for an F-35 is around 140m USD. Projected costs for 2016 are 126m USD.

        See page 52 of this 2015 USAF budget book

        Gripen NG isn’t even in production and ran the Swiss government 150m USD (2013) per plane. Rafale fly-away alone is 160m (see the India/Dassault negotiations) and the Eurofighter is similar, if not more expensive.

        Barring the expenditure of billions on modernizing late-80s or early-90s airframes, the F-35 is pretty affordable.


      3. The latest low-rate production run of the F-35, LRIP-8, has the F-35A at $108 mil. Lockheed Martin says the F-35A will fall to $85 mil when in high-rate production. That’s cheaper than a Eurofighter, a Rafale, an F-15 Silent Eagle, and, of course, an F-22. All of these aircraft are at, or above, $100 mil. Yes, the F-35 is one of the cheaper fighters on the market these days.


  2. Not sure how anyone can project ANY airplane’s effectiveness/service life.cost data 60 years into the future. Especially a new airplane with no service record. Total salesman hogwash. However, we DO have data on existing warfighters.


  3. Steve Harte, I’m sure someone said that about biplanes as monoplane fighters were starting to gain acceptance in the early ’30s.


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