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With modifications now complete on the first two operational Australian F/A-18A Hornets, the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) has begun conducting testing and evaluation of their upgraded systems at 4 Wing Cold Lake, Alta.
The two fighter jets, which were accepted in February as part of the federal government’s plan to address an interim gap in the Air Force’s ability to concurrently meet both NORAD and NATO commitments, underwent a number of changes at L-3 MAS in Mirabel, Que., to bring them up to the same operational configuration as the Canadian CF-188 Hornets.
The modifications included Canadian operational software, a revised cockpit configuration, installation of the naval aircrew common ejection seat, new night vision imaging system external lighting on the tail, a sniper targeting pod support, changes to the landing gear, and the RCAF paint scheme.
The government intends to acquire 18 operational Australian jets and possibly up to seven more for spare parts.
The Aerospace Engineering Test Establishment (AETE) is now conducting a range of tests, “primarily to verify that the Canadian software is fully compatible with remaining Australian-unique hardware and systems, before being declared operational and integrated with the rest of the fleet,” a spokesperson for the Department of National Defence told Skies. “This is the normal practice for changes that occur on any aircraft fleet.”
AETE has also conducted test and evaluation of CF-188 Hornet systems and gear as the RCAF finalizes an upgrade package for its fleet of 76 fighter jets.
Both the RCAF Hornets and the Australian jets could also see an upgrade to their combat capability. A review by the Air Force is currently underway to assess any necessary improvements to the combat capability of the fleet after an Auditor General’s report in November flagged a shortage of pilots and the declining combat capability of the aircraft as the two “biggest obstacles to meeting the new operational requirement.” The review is expected to be completed this spring.
Deliveries of the remaining Australian Hornets will continue at regular intervals for the next three years, with the final aircraft expected by the end of 2021. The jets will be distributed among the tactical fighter squadrons and operational training squadron at 3 Wing Bagotville, Que., and 4 Wing Cold Lake.