Canada considering RAAF classic Hornets?

Two Royal Canadian Air Force CF-188 Hornet fighters from 433 Tactical Fighter Squadron fly over Iceland on May 31, 2017 during an Operation REASSURANCE surveillance mission. Photo: Corporal Gary Calvé. Imagery Technician ATF-ICELAND RP09-2017-0025-005 ~ Deux chasseurs CF-188 Hornet du 433e Escadron d’appui tactique de l’Aviation royale canadienne survolent l’Islande, le 31 mai 2017, lors d’une mission de surveillance au cours de l’opération REASSURANCE. Photo : Caporal Gary Calvé. Technicien en imagerie, FOA-ISLANDE RP09-2017-0025-005The Canadian government is considering the acquisition of soon-to-be-retired Royal Australian Air Force F/A-18 classic Hornets to bolster its own fleet of CF-18A/B Hornets, a September 6 media report claims.

The online report in the Globe and Mail says the RAAF jets are being considered as an interim capability boost in lieu of a permanent replacement for Canada’s classic Hornets being selected. It says a Canadian delegation travelled to Australia in August to begin discussions about the possibility of taking some of the RAAF’s jets as they are retired from service.

The RAAF’s 3SQN is expected to begin swapping its F/A-18A/Bs for F-35As from late next year. As the F-35 enters service, the Hornet fleet will be consolidated. 3SQN will be followed by 2OCU, 77SQN and 75SQN at roughly one-year intervals, and all RAAF Hornets are expected to have been retired by 2022.

Canada remains a founding partner nation of the multi-national Joint Strike Fighter program, and had previously stated a requirement for 65 F-35As. But after many years of delays with that program, the current Justin Trudeau-led government was elected on a platform that included an undertaking to halt its F-35 acquisition and to conduct a competitive evaluation of other combat aircraft.

In 2016, Canada requested an interim buy of Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornets to complement its ageing CF-18s until the competitive evaluation could be completed. Despite approvals for the acquisition through the US Defence Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA), the Super Hornet deal is yet to be signed, and more recently Canada has threatened to abandon it altogether due to a complaint in the International Trade Commission by Boeing against Montreal-based Bombardier.

Boeing has alleged Bombardier sold a number of its new CS100 regional airliners to Delta Air Lines at heavily discounted prices or below cost price due to heavy Canadian government subsidies. Bombardier and the Canadian government have denied the charge, and in response Canada says it is reviewing the Super Hornet deal.

“Canada is reviewing current military procurement that relates to Boeing, as Boeing is pursuing unfair and aggressive trade action against the Canadian aerospace sector,” a September 5 statement from Prime Minister Trudeau’s office reads.

“Meanwhile, Boeing receives billions in support from US federal, state and municipal governments.”

Canada was the first nation outside of the US to operate the classic Hornet, ordering 138 F/A-18A/Bs in 1980 to be designated CF-188 in service, but more commonly designated CF-18. The first CF-18 entered service in 1982, and the order was completed in 1988.

The CF-18 fleet underwent a two phased Incremental Modernisation Program (IMP) starting in the late 1990s, which brought them up to an equivalent of the US Marine Corps F/A-18A/B+ and the RAAF’s F/A-18A/B HUG standards. About 50 CF-18s have been withdrawn from service through attrition and fleet consolidation, leaving about 80 in service currently.

It is unclear whether the former RAAF jets would be acquired as operational aircraft or as a source of spares. The average airframe life of the RAAF’s Hornets are only about two years less than the CF-18s, and the best of these are likely to be the last retired.