After more than a decade of uncertainty, Canada has officially announced its order for 88 F-35A fighter jets. At the time, Canada was the only partner state in the F-35 development program that had not ordered an F-35. The slow pace of this acquisition had even forced the Royal Canadian Air Force to buy second-hand fighter jets from Australia to relieve its aging fleet of F/A-18 Hornets.
The CF-18 Replacement
After much hesitation and second-guessing, Canada has finally decided on a replacement for its CF-18 Hornets. The announcement is confirmed by the Public Services and Procurement Canada, as well as Lockheed Martin. In total, 88 F-35s will be purchased by the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF). The first aircraft will be delivered in 2026, with delivery scheduled for 2032-2034. The $19 billion contract includes not only the aircraft, but also support equipment, related services and the construction of facilities for the future fighters at Bagotville (Quebec, Canada) and Cold Lake (Alberta, Canada) air bases. The return on investment is estimated at $425 million and 3,300 jobs per year for Canadian manufacturers over a 25-year period.
A slow acquisition process
So this is officially the end of doubts in Canada regarding the successor to the CF-18 Hornet. Indeed, since 1997, Canada has participated in the JSF/F-35 program but had still not ordered an F-35. Indeed, in 2010, the Conservative government of Steven Harper had selected the F-35 without a call for tenders. The process was stopped entirely when Justin Trudeau came to power. The latter had promised during his campaign that Canada would choose "an alternative option that is more economical and better meets Canada's defense needs." Finally, in 2017, after issuing a call for tenders, the Trudeau government reversed its 2015 position: the F-35 was indeed chosen over the alternative proposed by Saab and its JAS-39 Gripen E/F.
Meanwhile, Canadian companies, committed since the first Canadian investments, were integrated into the construction of parts of the F-35. In fact, Canada was the only partner state in the program that did not want to order the F-35. The risk of not choosing the F-35 thus included a loss of the investments made in previous years. The choice of the F-35 today therefore seems logical.
It should be noted that Canadian manufacturers have nonetheless accumulated $2.8 billion in contracts while Canadian governments were still hesitating.
An Australian interim
In 1982, Canada decided to buy 138 F/A-18 Hornet multi-role fighter aircraft, for a contract worth $3.2 billion. Two versions are purchased:
- 98 single-seat F/A-18As, referred to as CF-18As within the RCAF
- 40 two-seat F/A-18Bs, referred to as CF-18Bs within the RCAF
However, in the mid-2010s, the RCAF realizes that with the slow pace of political decisions, its future fighter is not close to entering service as some CF-18s are seriously starting to age, with the first aircraft delivered in 1982. In 2018, Canada then decided to buy 25 second-hand F/A-18 Hornets from Australia for C$90 million. The aircraft will be delivered between 2019 and 2021. The contract includes:
- 12 F/A-18A
- 8 F/A-18B
- 7 F/A-18A/Bs that are no longer airworthy but and are used to be cannibalized for the benefit of the other F/A-18 Hornets.
The 18 airworthy Hornets are then upgraded to the same standards as the Canadian CF-18s (CF-18AM/BM). By 2021, the RCAF had 96 Hornets, including 71 CF-18AMs and 25 CF-18BMs.
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