Monday, March 5, 2018

CF-18 Life-Extension To Cost at Least $1.5 Billion

By: David Pugliese, The National Post 

Canadians could be paying more than $1.5 billion extra as the operating life of the military’s aging CF-18 fighter jets is extended for another 14 years.

CF-18 Hornet fighter jets takes off from 4 Wing Cold Lake.Trevor Robb/Postmedia/File
The jets were to be taken out of service after 2025, but as Postmedia recently reported, delays in the Liberal government’s plan to buy replacements means the jets will need to continue operating until 2032. While the Department of National Defence says it still has yet to figure out how much that will cost, a December 2014 report produced by DND and the Canadian Forces raised concerns about further extending the life of the CF-18s.

“Rough order of magnitude incremental costs for an Estimated Life Expectancy of 2030 are just over $1.5 billion and are primarily due to the requirement for a new structural life extension program needed to enable the CF-18 to be flown beyond its current safe life,” said the report, which was prepared for the previous Conservative government.

That roughly $1.5 billion would be on top of the $500 million the Liberal government has set aside to buy 18 used Australian F-18s as a stop-gap until it can acquire new planes.

Some savings could be found from the cost of extending the service of the CF-18s if the military reduces their flying hours, the report said.

The jets, first received in 1982, will be 50 years old when they are retired.

“The government has stated the need to invest further in the life extension and continued operation of the CF-18 fleet,” said DND spokesman Dan Le Bouthillier. “The cost will be known once investigations are complete.

“Life extension would occur under continuing in-service support using already proven engineering and maintenance processes,” he said.

During the 2015 election campaign the Liberals promised to immediately launch a competition to buy replacements for the CF-18s. Once elected, they instead decided to buy 18 Super Hornets from Boeing as a temporary measure, then scuttled that arrangement over a trade dispute between the U.S. aircraft manufacturer and Canadian aerospace firm Bombardier.

They have committed to buying 88 new fighter jets in a program that could cost as much as $19 billion, a price which does not include long-term maintenance. Troy Crosby, director general of defence major projects at Public Services and Procurement Canada, said that a request for proposals from companies for the new jets is expected to be issued in spring 2019, with a contract likely not signed until late 2021 or early 2022.
Canada’s CF-18 jets, first received in 1982, will be 50 years old when they are retired. Trevor Robb/Postmedia/File

The department said it is still evaluating information from various fighter jet companies and will at some point release a list of those firms approved to take part in the upcoming competition.

The first replacement aircraft for the CF-18s are expected to arrive in 2025 but the delivery of all 88 planes would not be completed until 2030, according to federal government documents distributed to industry representatives at a Jan. 22 meeting in Ottawa. The last CF-18s would then be retired in 2032.

Aerospace industry officials have privately said it would have made more sense to launch an immediate competition and fast-track the purchase of new aircraft instead of dumping money into keeping older jets airborne.

Over the last decade the Canadian Forces have investigated various options to replace the CF-18s, which have been upgraded over the years.

In 2001 a modernization project was launched to allow the planes to continue operating until 2017-2020. Structural improvements to maintain the fleet have been ongoing and another upgrade program is in the works 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, and could potentially involve upgrades to weapons.

It is unclear how extensive another upgrade beyond that would need to be to keep the planes flying from 2025 to 2032.

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