Canada has revamped its policy on how to meet its air-defense commitments to protecting North America and contributing to NATO, prompting a decision to boost the number of fighter jets it will buy in the future.
Canada is currently buying 18 Super Hornets from Boeing as a stop-gap measure, before eventually holding a competition to acquire a fleet of aircraft to form its future fighter fleet.
The number of new fighters outlined by the Royal Canadian Air Force for the previous Conservative Party government for that future fleet was 65.
But the current Liberal Party government has determined that is not enough, and Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan says that figure will have to be increased.
The Liberal Party government changed defense policy earlier this year to require the Royal Canadian Air Force to meet its commitments to NATO and NORAD simultaneously.
Sajjan didn’t outline how many new aircraft the government will purchase. But he noted that the new number would be outlined in the Liberal Party government’s defense policy to be released early next year.
The RCAF originally had 138 CF-18 fighter jets but over time commitments have reduced the number the military believes is needed. “We started with 138 (CF-18s),” RCAF commander Lt.-Gen. Mike Hood explained to the House of Commons’ defence committee on April 14. “Currently, we feel that we do not need more than 65.”
But Hood now acknowledges that the policy changes requiring NORAD and NATO commitment to be met at the same time mean more planes are required. He declined to break down the numbers for each mission but noted the RCAF will provide the government with options to deal with meeting NORAD and NATO commitments simultaneously. “We’ll make recommendations to the number of aircraft that we need to meet that policy,” Hood said.
The RCAF currently operates 76 CF-18 aircraft.
The procurement of the new fighter jets has yet to start but is expected to take at least five years, said Sajjan. That lengthy timeline could work in favor of Lockheed Martin and the F-35, says defense analyst Martin Shadwick. “As we get into the later 2020s the issues that Lockheed has had to deal with on the F-35 will be certainly ironed out,” said Shadwick, who teaches strategic studies at York University in Toronto. “With the aircraft of potential competitors getting older or even perhaps going out of production, the F-35 might be the only game in town for Canada.”
Liberal Party Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said his government would not purchase the F-35. But Lockheed Martin officials continue to say they still believe the F-35 is the best aircraft to meet Canada’s future needs.
In the meantime, the Canadian government has now entered into discussions with the US government on the purchase of the 18 Super Hornets, said Nicolas Boucher, spokesman for Public Services and Procurement Canada. The talks also include the procurement of in-service support for the planes, he added.
Canada has not yet outlined when the Super Hornets are expected to be purchased. Jean-François Létourneau, another Public Services and Procurement Canada spokesman, said the Department of National Defence, Boeing and Canada’s department of Innovation, Science and Economic Development will be brought into those talks. “These discussions will focus on issues such as cost, delivery timelines, any required modifications to the aircraft, among other items,” he said.