Canadian military to replace CF-18s !!!


Senior Member
Mar 21, 2009
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The Canadian military is eager to replace its aging CF-18s with a new generation of fighter aircraft.

But, while some critics are at odds with the selection process, others argue that the $9B purchase is completely unnecessary

Canada's military is on a mission to replace its CF-18s, a high-stakes, multibillion-dollar operation that could end up costing taxpayers for a generation.

The project -- known as "the next generation fighter" -- is expected to cost $9 billion, the largest single Canadian military equipment program in decades.

Defence officials could put their proposal to the Harper government as early as this summer.

Although it has only just received the last of its modernized CF-18s -- a $2.6-billion program -- the air force is eager to replace those planes with the next generation fighter.

The Citizen has obtained an air force planning document that suggests it hopes to select a plane by 2011 and to award a contract the following year.

"We would see the Canadian replacement program as our absolute prime target for our Gripen next generation fighter," said Tony Ogilvy, the international sales representative for Saab Aerospace's fighter aircraft.

Ogilvy, who is in Brazil to try to interest that country in Gripens, will soon head to Canada to brief DND officials. He won't be alone: Next week in Ottawa, aerospace company representatives will be at Lansdowne Park to promote their planes at the CANSEC military tradeshow.

Officials with the Defence Department's next generation fighter aircraft office aren't keen to talk about the project. They've continually rejected Citizen requests to discuss it. A department spokesman says no decisions have been made.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Defence Minister Peter MacKay made a brief mention of the project in 2008, noting that the government's defence strategy would support the purchase of 65 new aircraft. However, little information has been released to the public since that time.

On Thursday night in the Commons, NDP defence critic Jack Harris asked MacKay about the fighter replacement program.

At first MacKay suggested a U.S.-produced aircraft -- the Joint Strike Fighter -- had been selected to replace the CF-18. He later clarified this wasn't the case.

He also appeared to contradict the Defence Department's claim that no decision had been made on how the procurement program for the new fighter aircraft will be handled. MacKay said there would be an open competition. He went on to suggest the decision would be between the Joint Strike Fighter and another aircraft he didn't name.

Aside from the questions raised by Harris, there has been little debate among Canadian parliamentarians about such a major purchase. The situation is in sharp contrast to developments in other countries -- the Netherlands and Norway, for example -- where politicians are actively involved in assessing purchases.

Not surprisingly, the defence community wants new planes. In a position paper published in December, the Air Force Association of Canada argues the aircraft are needed to support troops and to provide a capability in the Arctic. "Since Sept. 11, 2001, the need for air power to counter the potential terrorist threat has increased the importance for fighter protection of Canadian interests," the air force advocacy group argues.

Critics of the proposed purchase agree on the threat of terrorism, but argue that defence dollars should be used to boost coastal and border surveillance. "Do we really need to spend billions on a stealth fighter to shoot down a hijacked aircraft?" asks Steve Staples, president of the Rideau Institute in Ottawa.

"What are these planes actually going to do? Chase old Russian bombers flying near our coasts?"

Staples, who has campaigned against what he considers excessive defence spending, points out that the air force has just received modernized CF-18s. Those planes, he notes, are more than capable of defending Canada for years to come. "The military seems to be in an arms race with itself."

Canada has already invested in the U.S. military's next generation aircraft -- the Joint Strike Fighter, which is being built by Lockheed Martin. In Canadian military circles, the plane is considered the top contender to replace the CF-18.

The idea behind JSF -- or the F-35 as it is also called -- is to produce in large quantities a relatively affordable, high-tech, stealthy aircraft. More than 3,000 planes are expected to be built.

In 2002, Canada invested $150 million in JSF to open doors for domestic firms to win contracts. Four years later, it committed another $500 million over the next 45 years, although government and DND officials say this doesn't mean they are committed to buying the JSF.

Critics of the JSF program argue that its increasing pricetag -- some estimates claim each plane will cost more than $100 million -- has made the aircraft unaffordable. In April, news reports carried details of a Pentagon study that pegged the price at $135 million each. Other Pentagon estimates put the cost at $113 million.

At the same time, the program has faced delays. In February, U.S. defence secretary Robert Gates fired the Pentagon's JSF program officer, Maj. Gen. David Heinz, in a shakeup of the project.

Concerns about the rising F-35 costs have prompted Denmark to delay selecting a new fighter aircraft by at least two years. In the Netherlands, also involved in JSF, parliamentarians have passed a motion calling for the country to cancel its F-35 contract and get its money back.

The ongoing problems with JSF have created a entry point for other fighter aircraft manufacturers. BAE, a British firm, involved in the JSF project, would also consider offering Canada the Typhoon fighter aircraft, according to a company spokesman.

U.S. aerospace giant Boeing is promoting its F-18 Super Hornet, an advanced version of the aircraft that Canada already operates.

Mike Gibbons, the Super Hornet's program manager, says it has excellent capabilities that meet Canada's needs. He says the planes could cost less than JSF -- "in the low $50-million range" -- and that the purchase would benefit domestic firms. Canadian firms are already providing parts for the planes, he says.

"We think Canada will make a very smart decision on the next generation fighter," Gibbons says. "But, to make that decision, it really needs a competition."

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