By Marina Wang and Maggie Parkhill
Canada will be “immediately exploring” purchasing 18 Super Hornet fighter jets as an interim measure to supplement the current fleet of aging CF-18s, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan said Tuesday.
The current fleet of CF-18s are over 30 years old and a replacement is long overdue, according to Sajjan. “Replacing CF-18s is a job that should have been done by our predecessors” Sajjan told a news conference. “We have a capability gap, which often leads to a capability loss.”
The 18 Super Hornets will serve as an interim supplement to mend the “capability gap” until a permanent replacement is decided upon.
“Every government has to decide the level of risk they are willing to accept to Canada, and our women and men in uniform,” Hajjan said in a press release.
“Having to manage our commitments to NORAD, NATO, and our ability to respond to unforeseen events is not a risk the Government is willing to accept. The interim fleet provides the most effective way forward to help ensure Canada remains a credible and dependable ally.”
The ministers did not provide any numerical estimates as to how much the new jets would cost, but Public Services and Procurement Minister Judy Foote said that they would begin negotiating with Boeing immediately. “It costs more but the cost is worth it” said Sajjan.
The government said it will launch an “open and transparent competition” to replace the outdated fleet. They plan to develop purchasing requirements for the permanent fleet and work with industry and foreign governments in informing an upcoming bid solicitation process. This new fleet is not expected to be fully operational until the late 2020s.
The procurement process for new fighter jets began in 1997 when Canada became a partner in the Joint Strike Fighter Program. Led by the U.S., Canada and eight other countries worked together to develop the F-35 Lightning II aircraft, an advanced fighter jet that totes interoperability with the aircraft of Canada’s allies.
The previous Conservative government had pledged to purchase the F-35, but the plan was fraught with controversy.
A 2012 audit report found that National Defence under the Conservative government did not give due diligence to the decision to purchase the F-35. The F-35 is also one of the most expensive jets on the market, and some experts in political science and defense policy argue that the advanced jet exceeds Canada’s defense needs.
The Liberals campaigned on a promise not to purchase the F-35, and the F-35s were not mentioned during the press release.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said that he would listen to experts during the procurement process, and blamed the previous Conservative government for allowing the airforce to use the aging CF-18 jets for too long.
“The fact that they botched the procurement process left us with a curiosity gap,” said Trudeau. “We need the interim fleet to protect our sovereignty and our allies.”
Header photo by Marina Wang