More Hornets For The Nest

On 22 November, the Canadian Government announced that it will immediately begin negotiations with Boeing for 18 F/A-18E/F Super Hornet fighters.

These jets are intended to address a “capability gap,” as described by Harjit Singh Sajjan, Canada’s minister of national defence, and will supplement the Royal Canadian Air Force’s (RCAF) existing fleet of 77 McDonnell Douglas/Boeing F/A-18A/B (locally designated as CF-18A/B) Hornet fighters, which were procured in the early 1980s. The RCAF will concurrently implement several new measures to extend the life of the existing F/A-18A/B fleet into the late 2020s. RCAF sources have told that the upgrades being considered for these aircraft include increasing their structural life, and ensuring that their civilian radio communications are compliant with international air traffic control requirements, although no timelines have been given viz when these modernisations could take place.

Mr. Sajjan claimed that a “capability gap often leads to a capability loss … We have an obligation to NORAD (North American Air Defence; a joint US-Canadian initiative to protect North American airspace) to have a certain number of fighters mission-ready at all times, and we have an ongoing fighter obligation to NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) as well. However, the number of mission-ready planes that we can put in the air today is less than the NORAD and NATO obligations taken together. That is the gap that I’m talking about.”

Speaking about the interim F/A-18E/F solution, Mr. Sajjan added: “A key part of our plan in this decision is to not rely exclusively on the F/A-18A/Bs until the permanent replacement fleet (see below) is fully operational, that would be imprudent and irresponsible … We need additional planes as soon as possible for an interim period. Having a new squadron of interim aircraft will mitigate those risks significantly as we address the capability gap.”


Concurrent to this announcement, Canada’s government revealed plans to replace the current F/A-18A/B fleet through an open and transparent competitive process, the duration of which is expected to take five years. The first steps in this process will begin after the release of the highly anticipated Defence Policy Review which is expected in early 2017 and will outline Canada’s defence priorities. The new permanent replacement fleet (see above) is expected to be fully operational in the late 2020s, according to the Canadian government, to replace both the F/A-18A/B and forthcoming F/A-18E/F fleets.

Signals from the Canadian government have been contradictory: on the one hand, official government announcements have said that negotiations with Boeing to acquire the aircraft will begin immediately, while government officials in a recent media interview disclosed that no decision has yet been taken on when negotiations might begin. Moreover, no information has been revealed by the government regarding the number of jets to be acquired, or when deliveries may commence and conclude.