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Friday, June 17, 2016

Liberals: RCAF Doesn't have enough CF-18s

By: Lee Berthiaume, National Post/ Post Media 

OTTAWA — The Liberal government says it is pressing ahead with upgrades to Canada’s CF-18s so they can fly through 2025. However, it maintains the upgrades will not address a shortage of fighter jets today.

The state of Canada’s CF-18 fighter fleet has become a hotly debated point since Postmedia revealed earlier this month that the government was looking to purchase new jets, likely Super Hornets, without a competition.

Canada doesn’t have enough fighter jets, Liberals say, despite plans to upgrade CF-18 fighter fleet
A Canadian Forces CF-18 Hornet fighter jet. Twenty-six CF-18s — or about one-third of the fleet — have already undergone structural work to be able to operate to the mid-2020s.
The government says there is a “gap” in the military’s capabilities. Speaking in Vancouver on Thursday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the government has a “responsibility” to buy new jets for the military, and is working “respectfully and carefully through options” to get planes “in a responsible way for Canadians.”

Critics, however, allege the government has manufactured a gap to justify buying a plane other than the F-35. They note the previous Conservative government committed $500 million in 2014 to extend the lives of the CF-18s until 2025.

A spokeswoman for Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan says the government has no plans to cancel those planned upgrades. In fact, Jordan Owens said 26 CF-18s — or about one-third of the fleet — have already undergone structural work to be able to operate to the mid-2020s, and electronic upgrades are planned next.

However, Owens said Canada has a certain number of CF-18s committed to defending North America through the joint Canada-U.S. aerospace command, NORAD, on a daily basis. It also has a certain number of fighter jets committed to NATO.

“And when you add these two numbers together, that is greater than the number of planes that we can put into the sky on an average day, which we would call mission ready,” she said. “So that is what we are defining as a capability gap.”

Owens wouldn’t say how many CF-18s are actually needed to meet Canada’s NORAD and NATO commitments for operational security reasons.

Asked the same question, Defence officials pointed to Royal Canadian Air Force commander Lt.-Gen. Michael Hood’s comments to a parliamentary committee in April.

“We started with 138 (CF-18s),” Hood told the Commons’ defence committee on April 14. “Currently, we feel that we do not need more than 65. The situation has changed. Our commitments have changed over time. So that was a conscious decision not to increase.”

Conservative defence critic James Bezan said there is a balance because Canada would require 65 fighter jets if it was at war. “That’s not the daily operation requirement, though,” Bezan said, adding Liberals should “easily meet” Canada’s commitments after withdrawing the CF-18s from Iraq and Syria earlier this year.

A 2015-16 internal business plan prepared by 1 Canadian Air Division, which manages the RCAF’s numerous aircraft fleets, also made no mention of a shortage of CF-18s. Rather, it identified government-ordered budget cuts and increasing fuel, utility and training costs as the air force’s biggest challenges.

Owens said the gap hasn’t been pronounced to this point because “most of the time, we don’t have to put all of the NORAD fleet into the air at once. But, at any given time, we have enough planes in maintenance, which is even more so as the fleet is older. We have an old fleet.”

Documents tabled in the House of Commons this week show many of those that are still operational have flown more than 6,000 hours, and four more than 7,000.

In his testimony, however, Hood told the committee he was comfortable with the CF-18 fleet as long as a decision on a replacement was made in five years. The previous Conservative government had planned to purchase 65 F-35s.

• Email: lberthiaume@postmedia.com