Mark Collins – F-35: Canadian Government Open to a “Bridging” Fighter Buy?

Further to this on the government’s seeking information on other fighters, a nice piece of reporting by Tim Naumetz of the Hill Times:

Public Works indicates it’s considering a short-term alternative to replace aging fighter jets

The Public Works National Fighter Procurement Secretariat, in charge of reviewing fighter aircraft options to replace Canada’s aging fleet of CF-18 Hornets, has indicated for the first time that it may be considering a short-term bridge of alternative fighters to begin replacing the CF-18s until the trouble-plagued and delayed production of the Lockheed Martin F-35 stealth fighter jets reaches the stage where Canada can begin acquiring it in numbers it can afford.

The new strategy is contained in a document that the National Fighter Procurement Secretariat sent to five warplane manufacturers last week, including Lockheed Martin, asking them to take part in a review of aircraft that are in production or planned to be in production as the 2020 retirement date nears for Canada’s fleet of 77 CF-18 Hornet fighters [but see below for what the RCAF’s chief has said about that retirment date]…

“The evaluation of options will review and assess all available fighter aircraft and will result in a comprehensive report with the best available information on the capabilities, costs, and risks of each option, including bridging and fleet options [emphasis added],” last week’s letter announcing the Industry Engagement Request says…

“In order to analyze potential fighter options to meet the Government of Canada’s needs for the future, the questionnaire time frame is divided into two time horizons: 2020-2030 and 2030 plus,” it says, introducing for the first time the possibility of new fighter jet acquisition in two phases, including the immediate short term as the CF-18 fleet depletes.

“By requesting industry information on fighter capabilities within two distinct time horizons, there is an added benefit of allowing industry to describe capability road maps or spiral upgrades,” the statement says.

“This information will prove useful in describing fighter capabilities across the entire intended period of employment,” it says.

The statement posted on the secretariat’s website explicitly says the request for information is not a government tendering process or request for bids for a competition…

A very big “Hmmm” indeed. How many “bridging” fighters might be needed/bought? Would that reduce the (initial?) F-35A buy significantly? How great would be the extra costs of running a mixed fleet if it comes to that?

As for the CF-18s’ service life:

More on the RCAF’s Chief Really Wanting the F-35

On what next generation fighter technology offers:

The F-35 represents where the western world is going [not the French or Germans, and the Typhoon is almost certain to remain the Brits’ main fighter–Comment 2. here]. I’m going to be flying the F-18 for another 12-15 years [emphasis added, that might be until 2027!]…

That extended service life could really cause problems, see end of this post…and links there…

Mark Collins, a prolific Ottawa blogger, is a Research Fellow at the Canadian Defence & Foreign Affairs Institute

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6 responses to “Mark Collins – F-35: Canadian Government Open to a “Bridging” Fighter Buy?

  1. As for the F-35’s sliding to the right, note that the IOC for USAF F-35As might well now be towards 2019 (if then):

    The operational date for those F-35As was supposed in 2011 to be 2018–see end of 2) here:

    Mark Collins

  2. Sounds like a Boeing proposal which got their nose in the door in Australia for the Super Hornet as a result of F-35 delays. What will happen though is when the F-35 fails, the “bridging fighter” will become the permanent solution. For example, Australia is now looking at getting a second batch of Super Hornets because of more F-35 delay. So, not a good idea because you are getting a “permanent” replacement (the bridging fighter) but not going through a tough, comparison of all available (working in final trim…F-35 does not qualify) fighters which will give you the best value and best available industry offsets. So again using the Australian example, if Australia had evaluated all available fighter types, and for whatever reason in that process, selected the Super Hornet, they would get a better purchase price and better industry offsets because of competition against the likes of the Rafale, Typhoon and Gripen.

  3. A well-informed friend responds:

    ‘There is now apparently a “mixed fleet” constituency emerging in the Air Force to ensure they get some F-35s some day.’

    Mark Collins

  4. And a knowledgeable friend replies:

    “A bridging fighter would mean the easiest choice–Super Hornets.

    Follow the RAAF model: they bought 24 F-18E/F to replace the strike fleet (F-111) while the early Hornets took the air defence mission. We could do the same so long as we could find 55-60 of our F-18s suitable for life extension to do the NORAD missions. That would entail some structural work and especially AESA radars (which are being retro-fitted to several US fighters). We could do a deal with either the RAAF or USN to do heavy maintenance and the basic pilot conversion to Supers.

    I gather the RAAF is about to order 24 more F-18E/F [see 2) here: ]
    so the air superiority/interceptor mission will partially transition to the new aircraft and the least viable of their old Hornets will be thus replaced–leaving the rest to be replaced by F-35s for strike, with air defence done by F-18E/F.”

    Mark Collins

  5. The other issue is that a faulty F-35–at this time–shows no progress in fitting within existing CF-18 squadron operating budgets. That is the money you hand over every year–as a taxpayer–so that a CF-18 squadron can do daily operations. Consider the cost per flight hour figures: Gripen $5-7k per flight hour (USD). F-18 US Navy (like the CF-18) about $18,000 per flight hour (USD). Super Hornet in Australian service $A23,000 per flight hour (might go down a bit as they get tribal knowledge on the type and it is a two-seater which is slightly more expensive to operate). F-35 U.S. Navy prediction $31,000 USD per flight hour (NAVAIR source 2009 ). F-35 (USAF estimate 2011-12) $35,000 per flight hour USD. Canada predictions (that study…) wasn’t it up somewhere in the $46,000c region?) So again, where is Canada going to find the money to run an F-35 squadron in day-to-day ops, and that assumes it works which has not been proven. Parked much. Flown little.

  6. More on the Aussies that may have some relevance for the RCAF:

    “Australia Buying 24 Super Hornets As Interim Gap-Fillers”

    Mark Collins

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