Canada continues to feel its tentative way towards a final decision on a replacement for its legacy fleet of CF-18 fighter aircraft. Initial plans to purchase the F-35 have been brought to a halt following prime minister Justin Trudeau’s election pledge to opt out of the programme, in which Canada has been a partner since 2002, with a commitment to buy 65 aircraft.
In the latest development, the government announced on 22nd November that it will launch an open and transparent competition for a new fighter “within its current mandate” to ensure that the government gets “the right aircraft at the right price – while maximizing economic benefits to Canadians”. In other words, a final decision on Canada’s future fighter is still several years away.
The current Royal Canadian Air force (RCAF) fleet is now more than 30 years old and is down from 138 aircraft to 77. To close the resulting capability gap with respect to Canad’s NORAD and NATO commitments, the government says it will immediately explore the acquisition of 18 new Super Hornet aircraft to supplement the CF-18s until the permanent replacement arrives. The government will enter into discussions with the U.S. Government and Boeing regarding use of these jets for an interim period of time.
However, this is far from being a firm commitment, as the government reserves the right to decide if the interim fleet can be provided at a cost, time, level of capability, and economic value that is acceptable to Canada.
At any rate, this latest twist in the Canadian fighter saga contains few signs of encouragement for Europe’s contenders (Rafale, Eurofighter and Gripen), all of whom had replied to Ottawa’s request for information this summer.