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Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Former CF-18 Pilot: Super Hornet wrong decision for RCAF

By: Matthew Fisher

A recently retired senior air force officer says he knows of no emergency that would require Ottawa to buy Super Hornets as a stopgap.

“This gives Canada the wrong aircraft forever, or certainly for the next generation,” says the veteran who spent decades flying fighter jets.

“The fact is that there is no urgent need to bolster the fighter force right now.”

A photo released by aeronautical manufacturer Boeing shows Super Hornet fighter jets during tests at an unidentified location.
A photo released by aeronautical manufacturer Boeing shows Super Hornet fighter jets during tests at an unidentified location.
By deciding to buy the Super Hornets without a competition, Ottawa is not waiting for the findings of a defence policy review that was supposed to seek input from Canadians about the country’s strategic needs and procurement priorities.

Even if new fighter jets were urgently needed, there is still time to hold an open and fair competition, says the former officer, who flew CF-18s and CF-104 Starfighters in the High Arctic and Europe before holding key staff positions.

If the F-35 won such a competition — and it has won every competition where other air forces have pitted it against the Super Hornet and older European fighters — the U.S. Air Force would be willing to slow its acquisition of F-35s to enable the Royal Canadian Air Force to jump the queue and get enough of them within three years to fill any alleged gap in Canada’s ability to defend the Arctic and assist NATO in a time of war.

The RCAF had told the government and a parliamentary committee it could safely operate the current CF-18s until 2025 and meet all Canada’s obligations to NORAD and NATO with a $400-million life extension program the Conservative government approved.

It has been reported that the Liberal government of Justin Trudeau is intent on buying Super Hornet fighter jets from Boeing rather than F-35s from Lockheed Martin.

“I assess the situation as entirely political,” the retired officer said. “Nobody will even have this discussion a year from now.”

This is because with nearly 200 F-35s already flying and solutions being found for initial technical problems with the software and high-tech pilot’s helmet, “it is becoming more and more obvious every day that it is the best aircraft.”

More and more obvious every day that (F-35) is the best aircraft

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan suggested several months ago there would be an open competition to choose the next fighter. A few weeks ago, he indicated another shift in policy: the government would fill “a capability gap” by seeking an interim solution and would make a final choice later on.

But the retired pilot said it was “disingenuous” of the government to hint that after buying Super Hornets it would buy another type of fighter jet at some point.

One of the reasons long cited by the Liberals for excluding the F-35 — also known as the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) — was that it cost a lot more than the Super Hornet. That is no longer true because the JSF has dropped dramatically in price. Finland recently costed the Super Hornet at about $92 million each, compared to $85 million for the JSF, he said.

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Repugnant, deceitful and dishonest are some of the milder words used by others in the defence community when asked to describe how the Liberals have handled the fighter jet file.

While much more polite, the former fighter pilot was highly critical of the government for leaving the defence of Canada for the next 40 years to an aircraft developed more than 40 years ago and rebuilt 20 years ago, instead of acquiring the cutting edge F-35, which has been designed to be invisible to enemy radar. That, he said, was a critical issue in the Far North, where other air forces, including Russia, will soon be flying only stealthy aircraft.

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan has warned of a pending "gap" in Canada's military capabilities.

Debunking the myth that the twin-engine Super Hornet was a wiser choice for Canada’s vast north than the single-engine F-35, he noted engine technologies had greatly improved since Canada bought its CF-18s in the 1980s and jets seldom fly at low altitude any more, rendering them less vulnerable to bird strikes.

The U.S. has such confidence in the F-35s, they were the only jets being based in northern Alaska.

Ottawa has argued that by buying Super Hornets as a stopgap measure it would only be following Australia lead, but the retired pilot said, “there is no comparison to be made. That was a very different situation.”

Australia bought Super Hornets to fill a gap created by the retirement of its F-111 jets. But it had already decided to buy F-35s as its front-line fighter and had remained committed to that purchase.

“If you do get the Super Hornet in 2016 that would be an upgrade on our CF-18s. Nobody would argue with that,” the officer said. “But it is not going to be updated. The manufacturing process is shutting down and pretty soon the Super Hornet will be frozen in time.

“The F-35s will have parts and be maintained for five decades. The beauty of the F-35 is that 15 to 20 countries are getting it. Many of them will be working on better radars and more stealth.”