Canada will squeeze even more flying time out of its aging CF-18s, keeping the jets operating for another 15 years.
There had been plans to take the jets out of service shortly after 2025.
But representatives from companies who took part in a Jan. 22 industry day outlining the Liberal government’s program to buy new fighter planes were told the RCAF will now keep the CF-18s operating until 2032.
The jets, first received in 1982, will be retired after 50 years of service.
Some aerospace industry sources, however, question whether the 2032 retirement is set in stone since any delays in the purchase of new jets could alter that schedule.
The first replacement aircraft for the CF-18s will arrive in 2025 but the deliveries of the 88 planes would not be completed until 2030, according to the federal government documents distributed to industry representatives at the Jan. 22 meeting in Ottawa.
|A CF-188 Hornet from the Canadian Air Task Force Lithuania perform manoeuvres over Lithuania on September 15, 2014 for the NATO Baltic Air Policing Block 36 during Operation Reassurance. Cpl Gabrielle DesRochers|
Structural improvements to maintain the fleet have also been ongoing and another upgrade program is in the works, with the aim to keep the planes flying until 2025, according to the RCAF.
That will provide the planes with various systems to allow them to operate with allied air forces as well as meet new rules to fly in domestic and international airspace. There could also be upgrades to weapons, the RCAF says.
It is unclear if yet another upgrade would be needed beyond that to keep the planes flying from 2025 to 2032.
Canada is in also in discussions with Australia to purchase 18 used F-18 aircraft to augment the existing fleet of CF-18s. While the exact cost of that deal won’t be made public until the contract is signed, the Liberal government has set aside $500 million for the project.
In November 2016, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan acknowledged that the CF-18s might have to keep flying longer than planned, suggesting they could even continue until 2030 or perhaps beyond. The briefing to industry representatives was the first official government confirmation that the RCAF would stretch out the life of the aircraft until 2032.
|Seen from the window of a Canadian Forces CC-150 Polaris tanker, a CF-18 Hornet fighter jet refuels in the air over Vancouver during Operation Podium on Feb. 18, 2010. Master Corporal Andrew Collins, 14 Wing Imaging|
Troy Crosby, director general of defence major projects at Public Services and Procurement Canada, said in an interview with Postmedia that a request for proposals from companies for the new fighter jets is expected to be issued in spring 2019. A contract would be signed in late 2021 or early 2022.
André Fillion, chief of staff in the materiel branch at the Department of National Defence, said the Jan. 22 meeting provided a way to brief industry on how the purchase will unfold. “This was an opportunity for us to start talking to industry about the context for the fleet in terms of its operation, sustainment and acquisition,” he explained in an interview with Postmedia. Fillion said attendees were given “a bit of an appreciation of where we are headed so they can start thinking about their solution.”
Further details of the purchase will emerge over the next year.
Canada is compiling a suppliers list which will include aircraft manufacturers and the foreign governments or defence agencies associated with those planes. The deadline for submissions to that list is Feb. 9.
The Canadian government will then evaluate the responses and a formal list will be drawn up by March. Only suppliers on the list at that time will be invited to take part in the competition and to submit proposals.