By: David Pugliese, The National Post
The Super Hornet jets the Liberal government is spending billions of dollars to purchase could be flying for as little as 12 to 15 years before they are taken out of service.
There had been some suggestions by analysts and, privately by military officers, that the Super Hornets could be kept flying, along with the new aircraft the government intends to purchase as a replacement for the CF-18s in the late 2020s.
But the operational life of the Super Hornets, expected to arrive sometime after 2019, will be limited, unlike the current CF-18s that have been flying for more than three decades, the Liberals confirm.
“The operational life span of the Super Hornet fleet will start at the delivery and not end before the completion of the transition to the CF-18 permanent replacement aircraft,” Harjit Sajjan noted in a written response to a question asked by Conservative MP Diane Finley.
Sajjan has said the government wants to get a permanent fleet delivered as quickly as possible, with some estimates putting that by 2029 or as late as 2032.
But Conservative defence critic James Bezan said Sajjan’s answer to Finley shows the Super Hornet purchase is a waste of money. “If they are going to use them for only 12 years, then this is a very expensive option that makes absolutely no sense,” Bezan said Thursday.
He said a better move would be to dump the Super Hornet deal, estimated to cost between $5 billion and $7 billion, and immediately run a competition for a permanent fighter jet fleet.
“You could have your new fleet delivered and operating quickly without having to go this route of an interim fighter,” he said.
Sajjan announced in November the government’s decision to buy 18 Boeing Super Hornets as “interim” fighter jets until a permanent replacement for the existing CF-18 aircraft could be bought.
The Liberals said Canada is facing a capability gap because it doesn’t have enough fighter jets to fulfill its military missions, a situation Sajjan has blamed on the previous Conservative government for bungling the project to replace the aging CF-18s.
But Bezan has questioned the Liberal claim that the CF-18s are on their last legs. He has pointed out that military officers have stated those jets can operate effectively until 2025, more than enough time for a permanent replacement to be bought.
In addition, Defence department officials had earlier warned against buying an interim fighter jet. But the report containing those warnings, which had been on the department’s website for more than a year, was quietly removed after the Liberal government announced its Super Hornet purchase.
The Defence Research and Development Canada report recommended against the purchase of such “bridging” aircraft to deal with gaps in capability. “The costs involved with bridging options make them unsuitable for filling capability gaps in the short term,” according to the report. “Any short-term investment results in disproportionately high costs during the bridging period.”
The Liberal government has acknowledged the decision to buy the 18 Super Hornets will cost more in the long run but they haven’t provided details on what that amount might be.
There is currently no price tag, Sajjan said Tuesday. “Once we have gone through the right process, have all the necessary information, then we’ll have an actual price tag.”