Canada Cleared for Upgrade of 36 Boeing CF-18 Fighters

 - June 19, 2020, 6:26 AM
The RCAF’s Hornet fleet has commitments to both NATO and NORAD. Here CF-18s fly over Iceland during a NATO Operation Reassurance air surveillance mission in 2017. (Photo: Canadian Department of Defence)

A potential Foreign Military Sales deal to Canada of an upgrade package for 36 Boeing CF-18 fighters has been approved by the U.S. State Department. The Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) is due to induct a new fighter type between 2025 and 2035, and its current Hornet fleet has been deemed unable to adequately meet Canada’s NATO and NORAD commitments until then without significant investment.

As a first step, the Canadian Department of National Defence (DND) acquired 18 low-houred F/A-18A/Bs (and seven non-flying aircraft for spares) from the Royal Australian Air Force. The first of them arrived in Canada in February 2019 for modification to Canadian specifications. Under the DND’s C$360 million ($265 million) plan the former Australian aircraft are scheduled to achieve full operational capability in December 2022.

As a second step, the DND is to implement the Hornet Extension Project Phase 2 to equip two squadrons' worth of upgraded CF-18s. These aircraft are being modified with “upgrades to sensors, weapons, survivability, security and mission support” to “improve combat capability,” according to the DND HEP 2 document.

HEP 2—now cleared by the U.S. and estimated at $863.2 million—includes a range of systems and weapons that add significant enhancements to armament, communications, and sensor capability. A key element is the acquisition of the Raytheon APG-79(V)4 electronically-scanned radar, along with its associated wideband radome. Weaponry included in the potential sale comprises 50 AIM-9X Sidewinder Block II air-to-air missiles, as well as various associated training stores, and 20 AGM-154C Joint Stand-Off Weapons.

Other systems included in the package are new ARC-210 Gen 6 radios, new data transfer modules/units, joint mission planning systems, and upgrades to training systems. New triple ejector racks are on the shopping list, as are 30 Improved Tactical Air-Launched Decoys (ITALDs). Canada hopes to begin implementing this project in 2022, with initial deliveries scheduled for 2023. The program is expected to be completed by 2025/6, and its timing is aligned with the expected delivery schedule of the new fighter type.

That program—dubbed Future Fighter Capability Project (FFCP)—intends to procure 88 new fighters to completely replace the Hornet fleet. It was launched in late 2017 and was followed by the acquisition of the Australian F/A-18s as a stop-gap capability in place of a scrapped deal to buy 18 Boeing Super Hornets. A final request for proposal (RFP) was issued on July 23, 2019, leading to the Airbus/UK government team withdrawing the Typhoon from the competition. Dassault had withdrawn in November 2018, leaving FFCP as a three-horse race between the Saab Gripen E, Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet Block III, and Lockheed Martin F-35A.

FFCP has been delayed again recently as a result of difficulties arising from the Covid-19 emergency. The initial deadline for responses to the RFP had earlier been extended from March 30 this year to June 30 in response to requests from industry but has now been further extended to July 31 in respect of Covid-related issues. A contract award for FFCP is slated for 2022.