Reports in the Canadian press indicate that the governing Liberal Party plans to buy Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet as an ‘interim’ fighter for the Royal Canadian Air Force. The National Post reports that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s cabinet discussed the fighter issue last week, but is yet to make a formal decision.
Currently, the RCAF has a fleet of fewer than 80 CF-188s, and the previous Conservative government unveiled a $400-million upgrade to keep these jets flying until 2025.
In recent weeks, Canada’s defense ministry has moved to put replacement of the country’s CF-188 Hornet fleet a top priority. Admitting that new fighters were needed ‘now’, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan recently identified a forthcoming capability gap.
In the country’s last election, the Liberal Party said it would not buy the Lockheed Martin F-35 earmarked by the previous administration, on cost grounds. Without providing a timeline for the purchase, Sajjan indicated that the Lightning II is still in the running for the bid. Canada remains an official partner in the F-35 program, but Sajjan said this would not influence the government’s approach to the procurement process.
Canada’s Defence Acquisition Guide published this year calls for the definition phase of the Future Fighter Capability program to be launched in 2017. A request for proposals (RFP) will follow in 2017-19 and contract award will occur in 2018-20. The CF-188 fleet is due to be withdrawn in 2025. However, the current government will publish a new defense policy statement in early 2017, which means the above timeline should be considered provisional.
Manufacturer Boeing remains optimistic about potential foreign military sales of the Super Hornet and says that additional international purchases are crucial to the company’s ability to position itself for the numerous fighter competitions and opportunities set to open up in the early 2020s. At present, at least two European countries — Finland and Belgium — are poised to begin the selection process for follow-on fighters to replace aging ‘legacy’ aircraft. In addition to Canada, press reports further suggest that Malaysia may still be interested in acquiring Super Hornets to replace its fleet of eight F/A-18Ds. Boeing’s CEO, Dennis Muilenburg, recently commented on a visit to India that it might be interested in F/A-18E/F sales accompanied by an agreement to build the aircraft in India.