On November 23, the Canadian Government announced its intention to procure 18 Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet fighters and continue to participate in the Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter programme. Canadian investment in the F-35 to date is estimated to be CAD 825 million; a further CAD 36 million will be spent in 2017.
Potential continuation of the Super Hornet production line at Boeing’s St Louis, Missouri, facility to accommodate orders from the US Navy and Kuwait could provide economies of scale for the Canadian order. It is uncertain whether Canada will order off-theshelf aircraft or require changes to incorporate Canadian-produced and mission-specific hardware such as Australia’s aircraft, some of which were delivered with wiring to enable upgrade to EA-18G Growler configuration.
Details of the competition, including the reason for procuring 18 Super Hornets through a sole-source acquisition rather than a competition, or the cost have been made public.
A new “open and transparent” competition – the current government’s election pledge – for a replacement fighter for Canada’s current force of 77 CF-18 Hornets (48 of which are in operational squadrons, with a 70% availability rate) is expected to include both the Super Hornet and the F-35 and be operational by the late 2020s. By deferring the decision until after the next election, even if the F-35 is selected, the current government will have carried out its pre-election pledge not to order the F-35. The Royal Canadian Air Force would then operate a mixed force of F-35s and Super Hornets – similar to (though smaller than) that planned for the Royal Australian Air Force – into the 2040s.
Press reports have suggested other competitors in the 2017–2022 process will include the Saab JAS 39E Gripen.
New or refurbished Eurofighter Typhoons and Dassault Rafales may also be considered.
Other press reports have suggested the political cost of a major procurement may result in the fighter competition being extended past its scheduled fiveyear duration and continued indefinitely, with the 18 Super Hornets providing Canada’s fighter force when the CF-18s – some of which are to receive additional upgrades, the extent and cost of which has also not been made public – reach the end of their service lives after 2025.
David C Isby