Friday, December 15, 2017

Buying Vintage: Examining the Cost of Purchasing Used Australian F-18s

By Christopher Cowan & Dr. Andrew Davies, CDA Institute

Image result for Australian F-18s
Royal Australian Air Force F-18 Hornet pilots wave to the crowd as they taxi down the runway after performing during the Australian International Airshow at the Avalon Airfield near Lara southwest of Melbourne on February 24, 2015.PAUL CROCK/AFP/Getty Images
The CF-18 A/B Hornet (a Canadian-variant of the same design in service with Australia and many other nations) has been the core component of Canada’s air combat capability since it was first introduced in the 1980s. The type has served the country well in overseas missions (including over Iraq, Kosovo and Libya) and at home defending North American airspace.

The road to finding its replacement, however, has been a bumpy one for the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) and the Government of Canada (GoC). After a few false starts, the GoC recently announced that it will move forward with its plan to finally find a replacement for the CF-18 and secure an ‘interim’ air combat capability of 18 second-hand Hornets from the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) until the new jets arrive in the mid-2020s.

The GoC has been criticized heavily for its handling of the CF-18 replacement program, with many commentators highlighting the political machinations behind the supposed ‘capability gap’ that the ‘interim’ fighters were to fill. Nonetheless, the GoC has persisted with its plan, so it’s worth taking a look at what it means to buy ‘used’ aircraft.

Australia has a fleet of 71 Hornets. The first was delivered to the RAAF in 1984, roughly the same time that Canada received its first CF-18. The airframe of a F/A-18 A/B has a nominal age of 6,000 hours, which can be extended through service life management processes and structural upgrades. The United States Marine Corps (USMC) also flies F/A-18 A/B models (as well as C and D models), and has put a significant number of flight hours on their airframes. 91% of USMC Hornets have over 6,000 flight hours and 19% have over 8,000 hours, with a few aircraft approaching 10,000 flight hours.

The average RAAF legacy Hornet has flown around 4,200 hours (see page 114 in the linked document), allowing for approximately another 1,800 hours of flight time before it reaches the planned end of its service life in the early 2020s. That’s a fair amount of life left on the airframe—almost one-third of its nominal lifespan—but the RCAF may well end up with some of the RAAF’s older Hornets, which are being replaced by F-35s. Australia has done an excellent job managing its Hornet fleet; each aircraft has a through-life plan designed to minimize wear-and-tear on the airframe. It has been such a success that Australia’s legacy Hornets have seen a recent uptick in flight hours—including taking them into action over Iraq and Syria—at an age when most aircraft are being flown less often, not more. So while the Hornets the RCAF will receive will be ‘used’, they’ll likely still be in relatively good nick.

Despite being roughly the same age as the Australian Hornets, Canada’s fleet of CF-18s looks positively ancient in comparison. As of April 2016, the average CF-18 airframe had approximately 6,100 hours on it, with some airframes having over 7,000 hours on them. Structural upgrades have extended the lives of their airframes to 8,000 hours per aircraft—something that most RAAF Hornets lack. Keeping the CF-18 fleet going and relevant until replacement jets arrive in the mid-2020s will require a series of relatively minor, low-risk upgrades, but extending their lives past 2025 would likely require significant structural and avionics upgrades, so any further delay in the replacement program would be costly. And by the mid-2020s, the CF-18s will be significantly less capable than the aircraft operated by Canada’s main allies.

Getting the newly acquired RAAF Hornets up to speed once they arrive in RCAF hands will likely not be very difficult, given the cooperation between the two air forces on a number of sustainment and upgrade programs for their Hornet fleets over past few decades. There are minor differences between the two fleets—the Australian Hornets have a different avionics package for example—but the Australian Hornets should be a relatively easy fit into Canada’s air force.

Now for the kicker. According to the Australian Financial Review, the reported cost of the deal is CAD $497m (USD $388m), which works out to a unit cost of CAD $27.6m (USD $21.5m). If true, that’s an awful lot of money for used aircraft that will only be in RCAF service for around six to seven years. It’s also around one-tenth of the cost of the GoC’s now-abandoned USD$5.23 billion plan to acquire 18 new-build Super Hornets from Boeing. But the difference is that the ‘interim’ Super Hornets could’ve flown with the RCAF for 30 years, rather than six.

Nonetheless, the data suggests that the RAAF’s 18 legacy Hornets, while around the same vintage as the CF-18s, may have a fair amount of life left in them and likely won’t require significant modifications when they arrive to supplement the RCAF’s fleet. That’s good news for the RCAF, which will finally get some ‘new’ jets to take the load off of its aging fleet. In the end, this acquisition appears to be an expensive solution to an ‘interim’ problem that should’ve been avoided. While it’s strange that it will take the GoC another three to four years to decide on a replacement for the venerable CF-18, any progress is good progress in the world of Canadian defence procurement.
~Christopher Cowan is a Research Analyst and Editor at the CDA Institute, while Dr. Andrew Davies is the Director – Defence & Strategy Program at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Mosque attack a reminder of threat to Canadian Sinai force

By; Evan Dyer, CBC News 

The Egyptian chapter of ISIS that likely carried out at the horrific November ttack in Bir al-Abd, Sinai, has also become a growing threat to a multinational force of peacekeepers that includes a contingent of 68 Canadian soldiers.
Sixty-eight Canadian soldiers are deployed with the Multinational Force and Observer peacekeeping mission in Sinai.
Sixty-eight Canadian soldiers are deployed with the Multinational Force and Observer peacekeeping mission in Sinai. (DND)
The Multinational Force and Observer mission, or MFO, has been in the Sinai since 1981 to guarantee the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel. Canada is one of the 12 nations responsible for the MFO and has played a prominent role in the mission.

Canadian Maj.-Gen. Denis Thompson, who retired from the military this year after a 39-year career, commanded the MFO from March 2014 to March 2017, extending his stay beyond the normal two years at the request of the organization.

Thompson was able to shepherd the force through an exceptionally violent period in the Sinai, without the loss of any of its 1,400-strong force.

But the MFO did suffer escalating aggression from the group, including sniper attacks, an IED, and mortar barrages on its base at El-Gorah. The attacks wounded several U.S. and Fijian troops under Thompson's command.

"They're very, very dangerous," Thompson told CBC News, "and they are going from strength to strength, from one spectacular attack to another."
Rapid growth after 2014

When Thompson arrived in the Sinai, there was already an active insurgency. A group called Ansar Beit al-Maqdis (Supporters of Jerusalem) had been targeting Egyptian security forces since the Egyptian revolution of 2011.

But the sudden eruption of Islamic State in Iraq and Syria onto the scene would transform the Sinai militants' fight.

Seven months after Thompson assumed command at El-Gorah, Ansar Beit al-Maqdis pledged allegiance to the newly declared ISIS caliphate, and renamed itself Wilayet Sinai (or "Sinai Province") of the Islamic State.

IS-Sinai had sophisticated weapons, including Kornet anti-tank guided missiles and surface-to-air missiles, and its senior ranks included former Egyptian Army officers.

ISIS seen as growing threat to Canadian peacekeepers in Sinai
ISIS threat making Sinai peacekeeping mission less 'viable,' says Gen. Vance
ISIS in Egypt: The struggle for the Sinai Peninsula

It quickly became a deadly threat to Egyptian forces, said Thompson.

"They have increased the casualty count against the Egyptian Army to the point where they now probably kill on average one Egyptian soldier a day."

"The MFO has been attacked mostly on the periphery, being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Any deliberate attacks have been largely to send a message to the MFO to stay out of their business."

Canadian Forces have a long history in the Sinai. During more peaceful times, a Canadian helicopter pilot shares a coffee with a Colombian soldier at El-Gorah in 1989. Colombia is also a major contributor to the mission. (MFO)
The business of IS-Sinai includes smuggling across the Egyptian-Israeli and Egypt-Gaza borders. It's one reason the group doesn't welcome foreign soldiers setting up observation posts.
A timely relocation

Documents obtained by CBC News last year through access to information show that the Canadian government began to reassess the risks of the mission in early 2016.

But rather than abandon the mission, which has helped to keep the peace in the Sinai for decades, MFO's leadership decided to redeploy their forces to safer areas.

What had previously been the main base and logistics hub for MFO at El-Gorah, close to the scene of today's deadly mosque attack, was scaled down to a forward operating base. Most of the force moved to the other MFO base at the southern end of the peninsula near Sharm el-Sheikh.

The forces stationed at El-Goreh were drawn down from 1,000 to 400, says Thompson.

"Markedly safer in the southern Sinai than the northern Sinai! They are like two different worlds completely."

But MFO continues to perform its functions in the dangerous northern half of Sinai, and Canadian troops continue to cycle through El-Goreh in what is currently Canada's largest deployment of peacekeepers anywhere in the world.


  • An earlier version of this story said that the Egyptian chapter of ISIS had claimed responsibility for the attack in Bir al-Abd, Egypt. In fact, no group had yet claimed responsibility when the story was published.
    Nov 24, 2017 6:21 PM ET

Canadian Forces Officer Named one of Canada's 100 most powerful women

By: By Gail Harding, CBC News 

It's an award Lt.-Cmdr. Kelly Williamson describes as humbling.

Williamson is a senior public affairs officer with the 5th Canadian Division-Canada's Army in Atlantic Canada and a resident of St. Andrews, N.B. She says she found out in August that she was named to the Top 100 list of Canada's most powerful women, an award created by the Women's Executive Network, but it's still shocking.

"I was so surprised because I knew that I had been nominated by some senior colleagues at DND (Department of National Defence) but I didn't think there'd be any chance I'd be selected to be one of this year's recipients."

Williamson will receive the award in the arts and communication category at an awards gala Thursday evening.

"I'm extremely humbled and I'm forever grateful."

Williamson said she joined the Canadian Armed Forces in 1996 and for the first eight years was an officer on a warship based in Victoria, B.C.

"I learned tons of great leadership skills there. I learned a lot about teamwork there and working under adverse conditions."
Job change

With a passion for communicating and storytelling, Williamson became a public affairs officer.

"Since then it's just been another great adventure."

Those adventures have included being a part of the Canadian Armed Forces disaster response teams that were sent to help the people of Haiti and Nepal after violent earthquakes. She has also been to Afghanistan.

Lt.-Cmdr. Kelly Williamson says being named to the Top 100 list of Canada's most powerful women is humbling. (Submitted)

"All of those experiences have taught me to appreciate what we have in Canada, how to get jobs done under adverse situations. It's really contributed and helped me become a flexible, agile leader," Williamson said.

In her short biography, Williamson said the award empowers her to continue offering mentoring to men and women in the armed forces.

"Mentorship and leadership is a two-way street and we wouldn't be anywhere in the Canadian forces without our soldiers, sailors and airman and airwomen. They are the reason officers and leaders have jobs," she said.

"I think this award sort of brings this home that it's all about caring about those individuals and making sure I'm always living up to that standard and putting them first."

Davie Warns about Government’s Lack of action on Shipbuilding

By: David Pugliese, Defence Watch 
The naval support ship Asterix is unveiled at a ceremony at the Davie shipyard in Levis, Que., on July 20, 2017. The Asterix was delivered on time and budget. Something the CSC Fleet Proposal for Bits cannot say. 
Davie Shipbuilding and a number of its Montreal-area suppliers will hold a news conference Thursday to warn about the federal government’s “inaction” on tending shipbuilding contracts and how that will affect jobs.

Spencer Fraser of Davie Shipbuilding will outline the various proposals that the yard has made to the Liberal government (for icebreakers, supply ships, etc) and “present the results these efforts have yielded to date.” (all rejected?).

Politicians and unions in Quebec have been turning up the heat on the Liberal government, questioning why Davie shipyards in the province isn’t getting any more work from the federal government. Davie converted a commercial container ship into a supply vessel for the Royal Canadian Navy. The ship, the Asterix, goes into service early next year and under the agreement will be leased to the RCN. Davie says it is ready to quickly convert another vessel into a supply ship.

But Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government has said thanks but no thanks.

Transport Minister, and former navy officer, Marc Garneau said the federal government doesn’t need another supply ship. ”We cannot artificially create a need for something that doesn’t exist,” he told reporters.