Thursday, June 9, 2016

How to frame a Super Hornet purchase... [RANT]

Changing of the guard?
Let me make one thing abundantly clear:  I do not consider the Super Hornet to be the "Best Fighter for Canada"™.

The Eurofighter Typhoon offers better performance.  As does the Rafale.  The Saab Gripen E/F offers the best bang-for-the buck.  The F-35 is undoubtedly the future.  So why am I so ecstatic about reports that the Super Hornet is on track to become Canada's "interim" fighter?

Put simply, the Super Hornet offers a substantial capability upgrade to our aging CF-18 fleet.  While it does not fly faster, nor is it more agile than the current CF-18, it does benefit from a much improved range, payload, and avionic suite.  Best of all, the Super Hornet represents the safest choice.  It is a tried-and-true platform that offers an easy transition.

News of an "interim" Super Hornet acquisition is certainly better than no news at all.

Some are calling foul, however.  The Liberals did promise to hold a "fair and open competition" after all.  Denmark's recent evaluation favoring the F-35 only highlights this further.  (A rather "fishy" evaluation, I might add.)  Some are taking issue that the Liberal government ordering less than a full order of aircraft would be a "bad idea".   Others state that selecting the Super Hornet as an interim fighter all but guarantees its selection for the full fleet.

So how can the Trudeau government announce the acquisition of interim Super Hornets without opening themselves up to the same criticism the Harper government took when it announced the F-35 purchase?

Step 1:  Identify a need


Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan
Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan has already performed the first step by illustrating a clear and present need for new fighters.  Last month, it was announced that the RCAF faces a "capability gap" as Canada's aging fighter fleet awaits a replacement.

Upgrades to the current CF-18 fleet that would keep them flying until 2025 are still in the "options analysis" phase after being announced two years ago.  One has to wonder if spending $400 million to keep the CF-18s flying another 8 years rather than 5 even makes any sort of economic sense, anyway.

Given the increased usage Canada's fighter fleet has seen over the last few years (Libya, Ukraine, Afghanistan, etc) it becomes clear that it is fast approaching its breaking point.

This makes things abundantly clear.  Canada needs new fighters.  Sooner rather than later.

Step 2:  Emphasize the reasons for sole-sourcing

Saab JAS-39E Gripen.  Not yet ready for prime-time.
While there is no shortage of fighters available on the market, things get a little more doubtful when you attach an urgent timeline.  The F-35 is still very much in development.  The latest Gripen, the JAS-39E, has yet to make its first flight.  Eurofighter is still in the early stages of updating the Typhoon with an AESA radar.  The Dassault Rafale would take time and money to adopt Canada's current weapon stockpile.  

Of all the fighters readily available, only the Super Hornet could enter Canadian service right now with little fuss.  It shares enough commonality with Canada's current CF-18 fleet that its adoption into the RCAF would take months, not years.  

The Canadian government already has plenty of information relating to the fighter jet market, thanks to the aborted F-35 acquisition.  This makes the justification for the Super Hornet even easier.

Step 3:  Use the Aussies an an example... 

RAAF F/A-18F Super Hornet
A few years ago, Australia was very much in the same boat as Canada.  It faced an aging Hornet fleet with its successor, the F-35 still years away.  Unlike Canada, it also recently retired its FB-111 fleet.  Instead of patiently waiting for its promised F-35s, it ordered 24 F/A-18F Super Hornets as an "interim" fighter.

The Aussie Super Hornet purchase has gone off without a hitch.  Australia is already using these new fighters in the fight against ISIS.  

Wisely, Australia has ordered its Super Hornets with the capability to be converted into EA-18G Growlers.  This gives them the option to easily adopt a rare and incredibly useful electronic warfare capability some time in the future.  

Canada's Super Hornet acquisition should replicate the Aussie's almost verbatim.  An RCAF with a powerful EW capability would make it the envy of many an Air Force.  

Step 4:  But don't go "Full Aussie"

RAAF's first F-35A
When Australia announced plans to purchase Super Hornets, it emphasized its commitment to the JSF program.  This not only guaranteed that the RAAF would be saddled with a mixed fleet, but it put limits on the total number of Super Hornets acquired.  

Any acquisition of the Super Hornet should be done under the auspices of keeping our options open.  

Step 5:  Announce plans for an open competition immediately. 


When and if the government announces a Super Hornet acquisition, it should immediately add a caveat stating that a full and open fighter competition will be held during the late stages of the Super Hornet's delivery (likely around 2020).

The intent of this new competition will be to find a fighter that will replace the remainder of our CF-18s, and likely supplement Super Hornet.

It should be emphasized that an immediate delivery of Super Hornets will enable Canada to take a much more thorough look at the options available to us.  It will also enable us to choose a fighter after a full defence policy review.  It also gives newer fighters like the Gripen E and F-35 a time to mature, as well as possibly leaving the door open for newer options.

While the possibility of a mixed fleet may give some pause, it is certainly not the worst thing.  Mixed fleets offer more flexibility and increased capability.


Then...  There's always this.
If the Canadian government can illustrate a real immediate need for fighters, while emphasizing the Super Hornet's versatility, effectiveness, reliability, and affordability; it should not have too much trouble selling it to the Canadian taxpayer.  Especially if the focus is on how well it improves our future options, rather than limiting them.

Do not think of a Super Hornet purchase as the conclusion to Canada's fighter procurement.  Think of it instead as the "next big step".





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