By: Lt.-Col. (Retired) Hon. Laurie Hawn, The Ottawa Citizen
“Per Ardua Ad Dis-Astra.” This altered RCAF motto sums up what the federal the government’s convoluted process to buy 18 “interim” Super Hornets to fill a “capability gap” really means. It will kill Canada’s fighter force.
Everything can be traced to the prime minister’s election campaign promise to never buy the F-35 fighter jet, allegedly because it is too expensive and doesn’t work.
His conclusions are being proven wrong, but he seems determined to proceed without a timely competition, thanks to a politically created “capability gap.” That gap was based on aircraft numbers that have never been demanded simultaneously; by fudging actual CF-18 operational serviceability history; and by the false narrative that the CF-18 cannot keep operating until we start getting new aircraft.
Any imagined gap, however, could be filled by 27 available Kuwaiti F-18C/D aircraft for $330 million US. Or, we could upgrade our entire fleet of 76 CF-18s to close to Super Hornet systems status for about 20 per cent of what we’ll pay for 18 Super Hornets. Neither option was explored.
We don’t have technicians and support capacity for today. Eighteen Super Hornets will cost about $7 billion Cdn and add 350 non-existent personnel and Super Hornet-specific infrastructure. We are already losing pilots to voluntary release at rates we can’t re-generate, and we certainly don’t have extras for the Super Hornet.
Many real experts were never consulted, and 240 were forced to sign lifetime non-disclosure agreements, which hides the truth. The Auditor General, the Ethics Commissioner and the Parliamentary Budget Officer should take an interest.
Competitions don’t take five years, and to satisfy everyone, we need to start one immediately. Denmark did one quickly, and Canada already has a (now suppressed) options analysis that points to the F-35. As in the past, the F-35 will win any competition not rigged against it.
The Super Hornet is a fine aircraft for its roles and time, but we need a fighter for projected threats into the 2050s. The Super Hornet also has a thorny safety issue in its oxygen system, which has resulted in 297 incidents and permanent grounding for some aircrews.
One argument that doesn’t stand up is that the F-35 doesn’t work. Its operational development continues and in every exercise where F-35 participates, its effectiveness is very evident. In our own primary aim of air sovereignty, the F-35’s clean configuration will allow it to conduct higher-altitude intercepts that the Super Hornet cannot.
Another argument that doesn’t stand up is cost. The latest cost for the F-35A is $8.5 billion US for 90 aircraft, or $94.6 million per aircraft. But as predicted, that cost will continue to decrease and in 2020, when we should start receiving our aircraft, it will be about $85 Million. The F-35 is cheaper than the Super Hornet.
The Super Hornet will not be interim. Even if the F-35 were to win a competition, we would suddenly realize that we can’t afford two small fleets, due to duplication of everything. That will apply to the Super Hornet and CF-18, and assuredly to the Super Hornet and F-35. The Aussies are doing it, but we are not them, and we would be stuck buying more Super Hornets.
Canadian aerospace industries, jobs and the economy will also be losers on our current path. We will lose out on billions in contracts and be out of step with future technology. This will be an industry-killing Avro Arrow redux and/or a costly Sea King redux.
We cannot afford to continue on the current path for many reasons: Canadian sovereignty and security, taxpayers, technical, personnel, moral, commonality with allies and Canadian industry. I have received virtually unanimous support for my position, most importantly from members of the RCAF at all rank levels.
Lt.-Col. (Retired) Hon. Laurie Hawn, PC, CD is a former RCAF CF-18 Squadron Commander and member of Parliament.