The long-running and controversial search for a new combat aircraft for Canada took another turn in December 2017. The Canadian government announced secondhand former Royal Australian Air Force F/A-18 Hornets as its preferred choice until Ottawa decides on the 88 new aircraft that will replace its existing fleet of 77 CF-18s. The way had seemed clear for Boeing to supply 18 FA-18 Super Hornets as an interim measure. Having rejected an earlier government’s plan to purchase the F-35A Lightning II, the Super Hornet had seemed a shoo-in after Ottawa expressed a preference for the Super Hornet in 2016. However, Carla Qualtrough, Canada’s Minister of Public Works and Procurement, dashed Boeing’s hopes in a thinly veiled swipe at the company when she told a December 12 news conference: “Bidders responsible for harming Canada’s economic interests will be at a distinct disadvantage.”
The country’s Innovation Minister, Navdeep Bains, added the government wanted “a trusted partner” in any future deal. The turnaround was a result of Boeing’s complaints about Bombardier’s deal to sell airliners to Delta Airlines and the US government’s subsequent imposition of an 80% trade tariff on the import of the aircraft.
The choice of the former RAAF machines is sensible on several fronts. The former RAAF aircraft are very similar in terms of age and equipment fit to the ones they will be joining in the Royal Canadian Air Force and any work required to bring them up to the same standard can be carried out in-house by Canadian enterprises without recourse to Boeing. Australia’s jets have not had some of the upgrades that Canada’s have, but funds are in place to perform that work and take any other measures necessary to maintain the increased fleet in service until the new type of jet arrives. Canada already has substantial spares reserves that will fit Australia’s aircraft perfectly and more are available from that source. The Australian aircraft will be delivered to Canada this year and enter service in the early 2020s after such work as is needed to achieve fleet commonality is done. The new jets will be assigned to 3 Wing Bagotville and 4 Wing at Cold Lake.