25 August 2019

First used Australian fighter jets now flying in RCAF colours with more to come

KONFRONTASI -   The first two fighter jets purchased from Australia are now operational and plans are underway to upgrade those and other jets to keep the country’s CF-18 fleet in the air until 2032.

The upgrade program, which will include improvements to navigation systems, communications and other systems, and eventually a new series of weapons and other combat enhancements for a smaller number of planes, could cost up to $1.5 billion, said Brig.-Gen. Todd Balfe, the Canadian military’s fighter capability special advisor.

The first phase involving navigation and communications improvements will allow 94 fighter jets , which include the 18 used planes from Australia, to meet new regulations to fly in civilian airspace. New weapons and other changes to boost combat capability will be added later to a smaller number of jets as the life of the CF-18 fleet is stretched out to 2032.

The jets are expected to keep flying to deal with any gap as the Royal Canadian Air Forces receives 88 new generation fighters at a cost of $19 billion.

The department and the minister have decided that's an efficient and a necessary use of resources

   
“In terms of value for dollar of extending this aircraft out to 2032 and allowing it to achieve operational parity with current threats, the department, the (chief of the defence staff), the (deputy minister) and the minister have decided that’s an efficient and a necessary use of resources,” Balfe explained of the upgrade program.

He said the first two of the 18 used Australian F-18 jets are now flying in RCAF colours and the addition of those aircraft will boost the numbers of planes available to 94.

“The first two jets entered operational service on the 28th of June, and then the next 16 will come over the next 18 months,” he said.

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan said those extra jets are needed to deal with a “capability gap” as Canada does not have enough fighters to handle its commitments to NATO as well as protecting North America.

But Conservative MPs say the capability gap didn’t exist and was concocted by the Liberal government to delay a larger project to buy new jets, a competition that might end up selecting the F-35 stealth fighter the Liberals vowed never to purchase.

The Conservatives have argued that it makes more sense to go immediately into the purchase of new jets instead of buying the 18 used Australian planes.

In November 2018 the Auditor General’s office issued a report noting that the purchase of the extra aircraft would not fix the fundamental weaknesses with the CF-18 fleet which is the aircraft’s declining combat capability and a shortage of pilots and maintenance personnel.

“In our opinion, purchasing interim aircraft does not bring National Defence closer to consistently meeting the new operational requirement introduced in 2016,” the auditor’s report added.

The Canadian Forces says it is bringing in new initiatives to boost the numbers of pilots and maintenance staff.

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The bid package for a new fighter jet fleet is expected to be released by the end of this month.

Four fighter jets are to be considered. Those include the Lockheed Martin F-35, the Boeing Super Hornet, the Eurofighter Typhoon from Airbus and the Saab Gripen.

The first delivery of the jets is expected in the mid-2020s with the full capability available in the early 2030s, according to the Department of National Defence.

But there are concerns in industry that the project is geared towards Lockheed Martin’s F-35, which has for years been favoured by the RCAF leadership.

Officials with Lockheed Martin’s rivals — Airbus, Boeing and Saab — have voiced concern about how the selection process is set up. There was a report earlier from Reuters that Airbus and Boeing were mulling a withdrawal from the competition if the bid package appears to favour the F-35.(Jft/Canada News)

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