Tuesday, January 3, 2017

RCAF Sets-Aside CF-18 for Airshow...but can't meet NATO-NORAD Commitments?

By: David Pugliese, Defence Watch 

The Canadian military is assigning a CF-18 fighter jet to the airshow circuit for next year, despite Liberal government claims it does not have enough aircraft to meet its defence commitments.

Each year, the Royal Canadian Air Force assigns a CF-18, painted to highlight a specific theme, to fly at airshows across North America.

But the decision to assign a jet for next year’s airshow circuit comes just after Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan and Chief of the Defence Staff Gen. Jon Vance warned that Canada doesn’t have enough of the jets to meet its military commitments to defend North America and contribute to NATO.

The plane, known as the CF-18 demonstration aircraft, will perform at 35 different locations in the U.S. and Canada from April to October.

In November, Sajjan announced the government needed to purchase 18 Boeing Super Hornet jets as a stop-gap measure since Canada didn’t have enough CF-18 fighters to perform military missions. The Liberals plan to buy a replacement fleet for the aging CF-18s at a much later date.

But critics have questioned Sajjan’s claim there are not enough jets, instead arguing the Super Hornet deal is designed to allow the Liberals to push off the replacement of the CF-18 fleet until well after the next election.

Conservative MP James Bezan, the party’s defence critic, said the assignment of the CF-18 demonstration jet to the airshow circuit undercuts the Liberal government’s claim there are not enough of the fighter jets to go around.

“I understand that we like to go out there and fly the colours and that it’s part of promoting our Canadian Armed Forces but at the same time it just shows this capability gap doesn’t exist,” Bezan said Thursday. “This has been completely manufactured by the Prime Minister’s Office to make the argument that there is a need for a sole-source purchase of the Super Hornets.”

RCAF spokesman David Lavallee said the CF-18 demonstration team aircraft is part of the operational CF-18 fleet. But he added that, “the assignment of a single CF-18 for the purpose of air demonstration is not affecting current operational tasks.”

The aircraft also serves a valuable role as part of the RCAF’s recruiting campaign, Lavallee noted.

If the aircraft, to be painted in 2017 to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the confederation of Canada, is needed for a mission, then it would be redirected for operations. “While the CF-18 Demo Team is an important tool to support outreach and recruiting, it is in fact also included in our mission-ready aircraft availability,” Lavallee added.

Sajjan and Vance have raised the spectre of the military not having enough planes to deal with a terrorist attack. Sajjan said the Liberal government “will not risk-manage this gap.”

“We’re going to make sure that we have enough aircraft to do this and that’s what our (Super Hornet) announcement was about,” he added.

But in November, the head of the RCAF acknowledged the capability gap issue was created by the Liberal government’s recent rejigging of defence policy. Lt.-Gen. Mike Hood said he wasn’t privy to why the policy changed. Hood said the gap was created earlier in 2016 when the Liberals changed defence policy, requiring the RCAF to meet both its NATO and North American air defence commitments at the same time.

“That demands a certain number of aircraft that our present CF-18 fleet is unable to meet on its day-to-day serviceability rate,” Hood told senators at a committee hearing. “They’ve (the Liberals) changed the policy of the number of aircraft I have to have.”

Delaying the eventual replacement of the CF-18 fleet would allow the Liberal government to avoid, for the time being, the potential of the F-35 stealth fighter winning any such competition. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has campaigned against the purchase of that plane, claiming it does not work and is too costly.

Bezan also pointed out that the CF-18s are being used more to do fly-overs for sporting events, including a number of flights throughout the fall. “They seem to be available for all sorts of public relations work but at the same time we aren’t seeing them doing military air policing or combat missions which the RCAF has done with pride in the past,” he said.