The Canadian military is hoping to ask the government early next year for approval to spend up to $500 million to modernize its CF-18 fighter jets.
The upgrade would keep the planes flying until 2025, giving the government some breathing room to organize the purchase of replacements and make sure they are delivered before the older jets are taken out of service.
Work has already started to ensure the CF-18s are structurally sound.
Now, the military is analyzing improvement options for communications equipment to deal with changes in civil aviation regulations. There could be other upgrades to weapons and how the CF-18s communicate and operate with Allied fighter jets.
|DND/FileThe CF-18 upgrade would keep the planes flying until 2025, giving the government some breathing room to organize the purchase of replacements|
The options focus “on what is required from a regulatory and interoperability perspective.”
The DND estimates the cost of the modernization at between $250 million and $499 million, depending on the options chosen and what the government accepts, say defence sources.
Military officers say the upgrades will have to be done by 2021 to make financial sense — new fighter jets are expected by 2025. That means decisions on the upgrades must be made and contracts placed by 2018.
Since 2002, Canada has spent $2.6 billion modernizing the CF-18s. The planes were bought in 1982.
The Conservative government planned to buy 65 F-35 stealth fighters to replace the CF-18s. The purchase was put on hold as the cost ballooned and technical problems emerged.
Colin Kenny: It’s time for us to get on with replacing the CF-18 fighter fleet
‘It’s here. It’s real:’ Stealth fighters vie for attention from air show attendees — and the Canadian Forces
Eight CF-18s deployed for month to U.S.-led exercise despite Liberals’ warning of jet shortage
During last year’s federal election, the Liberals said they would buy a less expensive fighter jet if they came to power.
In June, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the F-35 “does not work, and is far from working.”
But the Liberal promise not to buy the F-35 has been thrown into question by Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan, who has said any competition would be open to all jets. He has insisted the government must move “quickly” selecting a new fighter jet, but has not outlined any timetable.
Last month, the House of Commons defence committee called on the government to pick a replacement within a year. It pointed out the costs of the new jets should be well documented so other military equipment programs would not be affected.
|THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson A CF-18 Hornet on the runway at CFB Cold Lake Alberta, Oct. 21, 2014.|
“The committee report marshals evidence to bolster the Liberal decision to sole-source the purchase of Super Hornets,” the NDP said in its submission.
That refers to the Liberals’ attempt in the summer to buy Super Hornet fighter jets, built by Boeing, instead of holding a competition. The plan was put on hold after it prematurely became public when Postmedia revealed the scheme.
Industry sources say they believe some senior Liberals still hope to revive the Super Hornet sole-source purchase in the near future.
Sajjan has said the Canadian military is facing a “capability gap” since the CF-18 fleet can’t handle the country’s commitments to NATO and the North American Aerospace Defence Command’s needs to protect the continent.
“Between our NORAD and NATO commitments and how many jets are serviceable at one time, we cannot meet both those requirements simultaneously,” he said in July.
“The Canadian Armed Forces have been risk-managing this problem for some time now and the previous government found it acceptable. I do not, and I want to make sure that we give all the tools necessary not to put the Canadian Armed Forces in a scenario to risk-manage.”