Boeing strikes back at former air force commanders

Boeing is firing back at a group of former Canadian air force commanders who are asking Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to reconsider a plan to buy Super Hornet aircraft as an interim measure for Canada’s fighter jet capability gap.

When Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan unveiled the proposal Nov. 22, he told reporters that the Super Hornets would be an
Boeing is standing behind the Super Hornet (pictured) as a viable interim measure to address Canada’s fighter jet capability gap. Jeff Wilson Photo
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The former commanders released an open letter to Trudeau last week, arguing in favour of scrapping the plan to buy 18 F/A-18 Super Hornets as an interim measure while the government seeks a long-term replacement for the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) fleet of CF-188 Hornets.

“While we have great respect for those generals’ service to Canada, unfortunately the criticisms spelled out in the letter don’t hold up to scrutiny,” said Boeing in a statement released to Skies on Feb. 27

“Additionally, the generals’ proposed solution, while appealing on first thought, is not a practical way of solving the capability gap today and does nothing to ensure the RCAF has the equipment needed to fulfill its missions in the future.”

Boeing responded to four claims in the open letter, including the idea that Canada should seriously examine buying legacy Hornets. The letter claimed both the United States Navy and the Royal Australian Air Force will have surplus F-18s that are “very close in configuration” to Canada’s own.

But Boeing said neither the U.S. nor Australia has surplus F/A-18s to sell to Canada.

“The United States Navy, which flies F/A-18s, is facing a major strike fighter shortage,” said Boeing.

“The problem is so bad that in the United States, that the Defense Department has taken to museums to find spare parts needed to repair its current legacy F-18 fleet,” the company added, citing a report in the Breaking Defense online magazine.

“Like Canada’s CF-18s, American legacy Hornets are approaching the end of the airframe’s designed lifespan and the cost to keep them flying is multiplying. Given that fact, and the fact that the U.S. Navy’s version of the F-35 won’t be combat ready for several more years, the U.S. Navy is looking to purchase new Super Hornets, which the U.S. plans to fly well into the 2040s.”

Boeing added that Australia’s legacy F/A-18 fleet isn’t an option, saying the country faced a capability gap similar to what Canada faces today. The country purchased 24 Super Hornets to ensure Australia’s air combat capability edge is maintained until the full introduction into service of the planned F-35A Lightning II, said Boeing.

“Even if used Hornets were available, they would only compound the 50 per cent availability rate of the RCAF CF-18 fleet,” said Boeing.

The company also disputed a claim about similarities between the Super Hornet and existing CF-188s. The former air force commanders said it is a “different airplane, requiring its own training system for pilots and technicians, as well as new flight simulators, logistic support and maintenance organizations specific to the Super Hornet.”

Boeing said the Super Hornet was designed specifically to ensure an easy transition from the legacy Hornet.

“The Super Hornet, while a completely new, highly survivable aircraft, was designed to have common maintenance procedures with the legacy Hornet,” said Boeing. “It takes just 120 hours for Classic Hornet maintainers and one month for aircrews to transition to Super Hornets, including ground strike and weapons training.”

Boeing also disputed a claim that the RCAF would have to draw personnel from the existing CF-188 fighter fleet to help bring into service a new and more complex fleet of fighter aircraft. The former air force commanders said it would be necessary to recruit, train and qualify several hundred new technicians and dozens of pilots.

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“The RCAF could easily deploy CF-18s from one of its squadrons to the other three to ensure operational availability while freeing existing personnel and assets to support Super Hornets,” said Boeing.

The company’s final criticism was of the idea that buying, operating and supporting an interim fleet of Super Hornets would be an expensive proposition.

“Everyone agrees that the Royal Canadian Air Force needs a modern fighter fleet to ensure Canada can defend its borders and meet its NORAD and NATO treaty obligations,” said Boeing, adding the current CF-188 fleet was introduced into RCAF inventory starting in 1982 and was scheduled to be retired in 2006.

“Given the age of the planes and the lack of spare parts, keeping these plans [sic] flying is increasingly expensive and time-consuming,” said Boeing. “Purchasing legacy Hornets, if they were available, might appear cheaper in the short term but the maintenance costs and required modifications for these jets would be much higher than that of new F/A-18 Super Hornets. Ultimately Canadian taxpayers would see that the idea of acquiring legacy Hornets would be a much more expensive proposition than the generals’ letter claims.”

Boeing said the addition of F/A-18 Super Hornets to the Canadian fleet will automatically and immediately increase fighter availability, as well as the capability of the entire fleet through buddy tanking, advanced sensors and data-sharing capabilities.

“The Super Hornet, with its designed-in stealth, premiere AESA [active electronically scanned array] radar, and multi-role capabilities, will bring the latest generation of technologies to the RCAF,” Boeing concluded.

“By any measure, the interim buy is a cost effective and smart way to ensure the RCAF can meet Canada’s commitments.”

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