Monday, June 6, 2016

Canada to acquire "interim" Super Hornets?

F/A-18E Super Hornet

The National Post yesterday announced that the current Liberal government is making plans to acquire the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet as an "interim" replacement for the CF-18.

The story can be seen here.

It is important to note that there has yet to be an official announcement.  The National Post does state that the story was confirmed from "multiple sources", however.

Purchasing or leasing the Super Hornet as a "interim" fighter would follow Australia's example.  In 2011, the RAAF announced plans to purchase 24 Super Hornets as a way to bridge the gap between its aging legacy Hornets and its eventual acquisition of the F-35A Lightning II.

In retrospect, one can see that a major announcement should be forthcoming.  Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan recently stated:
Our fleet of CF-18s need to be replaced now. And the fact they have not been replaced means we are facing a capability gap in the years ahead,” 
This contradicts the previous Harper government plan to spend $400 million in order to keep Canada's current CF-18 fleet flying until 2025.

Acquiring the Super Hornet would also seem to contradict the Liberal's promise to hold an  "open and transparent competition to replace Canada's CF-18s".  This is mitigated somewhat by the fact that new Super Hornets would be labelled as "interim" fighters that are simply an updated model of what we already have (even though they aren't).  The Canadian government could announce the purchase of a small number of Super Hornets with the promise to hold a "true" competition at a later date.

RAAF F/A-18F:  Coming soon to Canada?
The adoption of the Super Hornet into the RCAF has been touted multiple times by multiple experts.   You can read about this here, here, here, and here.  It is seen as the "common sense" solution.  It is a solid, proven, and affordable workhorse that will see service for years to come.

Indeed, the Super Hornet may if fact be the safest choice politically.  Not only that but it opens the door to a myriad of future possibilities.  With a small purchase of 24-36 Super Hornets, Canada could quickly and easily re-energize its aging fighter force in the short term.

Canadian Super Hornets could be acquired quickly and easily, either as a lease or a full-on buy.  Boeing has been quite anxious to keep the assembly line open, as would the US government, but the prioritization of the F-35 has made its future unsure lately.  Even a small Canadian order would be seen as a victory for Boeing.

Advanced Super Hornet

In the long-term, Canada would have much greater flexibility on how to replace the remainder of its fighter force:

1)  We could go "all in" with the Super Hornet, acquiring a full fleet.  Doing so could mean upgrading to the "Advanced Super Hornet" standard with conformal fuel tanks, built in IRST, upgraded engines, and enclosed weapon pods.  While not matching the full-on stealth of the F-35, it would likely be enough for Canada's needs.

This could possibly be the most realistic option.

2)  The Super Hornet would be a true "interim" fighter buy acquiring it as a short-term lease or simply selling it to a third party when a more permanent fighter solution is found.

This would seem unlikely, as there would be little point in doing even a partial transition to the Rhino just to get rid of it shortly thereafter.

3)  The RCAF adopts a mixed fleet of Super Hornets and...  The JSF.

This could be an attractive option.  The F-35 may live up to its hype in a few more years, but its cost and single-engine may continue to be a concern.  The cheaper, twin-engined Super Hornet would mitigate this somewhat.  Canada gets to stay on as an F-35 industrial partner while avoiding some of the risks and costs of going "all in" with the F-35.

4)  The RCAF adopts a mixed fleet of Super Hornets and...  The Gripen E/F.

As I have mentioned before, the two fighters would likely work very well together.  They share a common engine and the strengths of one would compensate for the weaknesses of the other.  A mixed force of Super Hornets, Gripens, and Growlers could be a "dream team" of capability at an affordable price.

5)  The RCAF adopts a mixed fleet of Super Hornets and...  Something else.

Above all, a decision to procure Super Hornets as an interim fighter would buy the RCAF some time in deciding what its next fighter should be.  While this could mean the end for the possibility of a Canadian Rafale or Typhoon, it could open the door to fighters that are still early in development, like the F-X, F/A-XX or ShinShin.

EA-18G Growler
Better still, Canada may have the option of adopting a few EA-18G Growlers for electronic warfare duties.  This would add a valuable capability to the RCAF, one it has been without since the retirement of the EF-101 "Electric Voodoo".   The potential looks even more promising given the development of the Next Generation Jammer (NGJ).   Australia has already ordered half of its 24 Super Hornets with the ability to be converted to the Growler.

If Canada is indeed acquiring a small order of "interim" Super Hornets, it serve to not only buy us some time, but it will greatly expand the capability of the RCAF both in the short term and in the future.  Best of all, it opens up a myriad of options for the future.

For all intents and purposes, we should categorize this as a "WIN".




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