Canada has taken delivery of the 18th and final former-Royal Australian Air Force McDonnell Douglas F/A-18A/B Hornet.
The milestone was achieved with the delivery to Mirabel in Ontario of two ‘interim fighter jet’ Hornets in an An-124 transport on April 29. The Antonov had departed Williamtown with the Hornets on April 27.
The 12 F/A-18A and six two-seat F/A-18B Hornets are being refurbished and integrated into the Royal Canadian Air Force’s fleet of CF-18 Hornets. The Australian jets are near contemporaries of Canada’s original fleet of 138 CF-18s, and underwent a similar avionics, communications, and sensor upgrade as 85 of Canada’s jets in the early 2000s.
The RAAF began withdrawing its F/A-18A/Bs from service in late 2017 as first 3SQN, then 2OCU and, most recently, 77SQN converted to the new Lockheed Martin F-35A. The final RAAF Hornet squadron – 75SQN – will relinquish its jets at the end of 2021 before it too converts to the F-35A.
Canadian-specific modifications to be conducted include the fitment of NACES ejections seats, the integration of the Sniper targeting pod, and various different software loads and communications systems. Up to seven additional ex-RAAF Hornets are also being supplied to Canada to be used for spares.
Initial media reports of the sale emerged in late 2017, the acquisition of up-to 25 RAAF Hornets by Canada was finalised in late 2018, and the first two jets were flown to Cold Lake AB in Alberta and handed over after participating in Red Flag 19-1 in Nevada in February 2019.
The idea of acquiring former Australian Hornets was first flagged in early-2017 after Canada suspended its selection of the F-35A to replace the CF-18 in 2016. Canada remains a Tier 2 partner in the multi-national Joint Strike Fighter program which spawned the F-35, and its industry continues to provide components into the JSF program for all F-35 operators.
A subsequent RCAF order for 18 Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornets was cancelled in response to a complaint by Boeing to the US Commerce Department over what it said were unfair Canadian Government subsidies of commercial manufacturer Bombardier’s then-new CSeries airliner. Boeing’s complaint was subsequently dismissed by the US federal trade tribunal in early 2018, while the CSeries line was sold to Airbus and is now being marketed as the Airbus A220.
While Canada re-commenced a long-term replacement program, a request was submitted in March 2017 to the US to acquire the former RAAF jets as an interim capability and, in August 2017, RCAF personnel visited Australia to assess the aircraft. Canada formally submitted a request for 18 RAAF Hornets in December 2017, and followed it up the following month with a request for the additional aircraft and spare parts.
Canada’s project to replace the CF-18 is currently in its assessment phase, with the contenders being the Lockheed Martin F-35A, Boeing F/A-18E/F, and Saab JAS-39E/F Gripen.