A report by the Canadian Auditor General has criticised a plan by the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) to buy between 18 and 25 former RAAF F/A-18A/B Hornets from 2019.
The report by Auditor General Michael Ferguson claims Canada lacks the pilots and technicians to induct and operate Canada’s existing fleet of about 80 CF-18s, let alone the extra aircraft. Canada has requested the aircraft after it paused its planned F-35A acquisition in 2014 and then cancelled an interim buy of 18 Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornets in 2017.
Canada is now conducting a competitive evaluation of several aircraft types to replace its CF-18s, the youngest of which was built in 1988. The new aircraft it is evaluating include the F-35, the F/A-18E/F, the Saab JAS-39E/F Gripen, and the Eurofighter. Dassault recently withdrew its Rafale from the competition after deciding it couldn’t meet Canada’s industry offset requirements.
The former RAAF aircraft are only a few years younger than the CF-18s, and in the past decade and a half they have been upgraded to a similar standard. The combined fleet is expected to serve until the replacement enters service around 2030, making the youngest CF-18 or F/A-18A/B more than 50 years old by then.
“Flying the CF-18 until 2032 without a plan to upgrade combat capability will result in less important roles for the fighter force and will pose a risk to Canada’s ability to contribute to NORAD and NATO operations,” the report says. “Without combat upgrades, the CF-18 will be less effective against adversaries in domestic and international operations.”
Canadian Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan said recently the RCAF was looking at what further upgrades could be made to the CF-18 fleet including new weapons and self-defence systems, and that the former RAAF aircraft would be further upgraded.