By: David Pugliese, Defence Watch
On Tuesday, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan claimed that the government had to proceed immediately with the purchase of 18 Super Hornets from Boeing. Negotiations would begin soon. Sajjin said the reason was that a “capability gap” had materialized. It was serious, he warned. It meant that there were not enough CF-18s around to meet Canada’s defence needs. Both Sajjan and Chief of the Defence Staff Gen. Jon Vance warned that Canada could be vulnerable to a 911-type attack because of the lack of fighter jets.
It looks like that memo didn’t reach the desk of Lt. Gen. Mike Hood, the commander of the Royal Canadian Air Force. Testifying back in April to a Commons defence committee, Hood never mentioned anything about a capability gap. In fact, he said he was comfortable that the CF-18s could continue operating until 2025 – or even beyond. That was more than enough time for a full replacement of the fleet, he suggested.
So the committee went back for clarification on that point. The RCAF obliged with an answer this week.
“The Commander of the RCAF is confident that, based on the latest information available, there is sufficient capacity to support a transition to a replacement fighter capability based on the ongoing projects and planned life extension to 2025 for the CF-18,” it noted in a statement provided to the defence committee this week.
“New upgrades to F/A-18 (CF-18) systems are being developed and implemented by Allies, which would reduce operational, technical and cost risks to Canada’s CF-18 fleet if additional capability improvements are required.”
UPDATE – Defence Minister Sajjan’s spokeswoman Jordan Owens has responded to this Defence Watch article. Here is what she has to say:
“The capability gap is about there being an insufficient number of aircraft available on any given day to meet our existing NORAD obligations and NATO commitments combined, not to mention having the capacity to react to unforeseen and emerging threats. Keeping old planes flying longer won’t address the capability gap. With the current availability rate of Canada’s 77 CF-18s, there is a capability gap that the Air Force has to risk manage. With the current availability rate what it is, even if the 77 airplanes could fly forever, there still wouldn’t be enough of them to simultaneously meet our NORAD and NATO commitments. The only way to address the capability gap is to improve the availability rate of our fighter fleet. This means we need more people and it means we need more planes. The situation the previous government left us in absolutely means we will need to extend the life of the fleet, in order to make up for the time they wasted not procuring a replacement for the CF-18s.”