The arguments presented by 13 former Air Force commanders who wrote to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in an effort to get him to scuttle the government’s interim purchase 18 Super Hornet jets before ultimately replacing its countries entire fleet of aging fighter aircraft, does not hold up to scrutiny according to aerospace company Boeing.

Last week, the officers released an open letter to Trudeau explaining that there was no need for such a purchase of the Boeing jets because it would “significantly impair the Royal Canadian Air Force for years to come and ultimately damage the nation’s defence posture.”

The letter was signed by retired Lieutenant Generals Larry Ashley, Yvan Blondin, Lloyd Campbell, Bill Carr, André Deschamps, Dave Huddleston, Dave Kinsman, Steve Lucas, Paul Manson, Don McNaughton, Ken Pennie, Fred Sutherland, and Angus Watt.

“We certainly welcome any initiative that promises to close the longstanding capability gap, but purchasing eighteen Super Hornet aircraft would, in fact, exacerbate the gap in the near to mid-term by imposing a heavy burden on the RCAF’s existing resources without producing a meaningful increase in fighter availability,” they said. “…Quite apart from such technical issues, we are aware that buying, operating and supporting an interim fleet of Super Hornets would be an expensive proposition, with cost estimates ranging from $5-$7 billion.”

(To view the complete letter, click here)

They recommended that the Trudeau implement three things:

  • Provide the RCAF with the necessary resources to conduct an aggressive recruiting and training process to eliminate existing personnel shortfalls and to provide for the interim period leading to CF-18 replacement.
  • If your government wants to acquire additional fighters for the interim, it should seriously examine the prospect of purchasing legacy Hornets (i.e. basically the same as our current CF-18s) and modify them to match the capability of the CF-18. The acquisition cost would be a fraction of a Super Hornet buy.
  • Proceed without further delay to implement an open and fair competition for replacement of the air force’s CF-18s. Completing this within the next few years is entirely feasible, and it would allow for a faster, more effective and much less costly transition.

“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,” Boeing said in a statement today. “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.”

Related content

Ex-Conservative MP resigns honorary RCAF role over Super Hornet purchase

Pentagon orders Super Hornet, F-35 comparison test

Super Hornet to play key role in 2ist Century Net-Centric warfare

For instance, Boeing said, there is no surplus of legacy Hornets. The United States Navy, which flies F/A-18s, is facing a major strike fighter shortage, Boeing said.

“American Vice- Chief of Naval Operations Adm. William Moran recently testified to the U.S. Congress that 62 per cent of the U.S Navy’s F/A-18s are grounded. 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,” according to the company. “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.”

The Royal Australian Air Force, which is also saddled with a fleet of aging legacy Hornets, purchased 24 Super Hornets to maintain combat readiness until the introduction into service of the planned F35A Lightning II.

While the generals said the Super Hornets would require their own training systems and simulators for pilots and technicians, as well as logistics support, Boeing said the Super Hornet was designed to facilitate an easy transition from the legacy Hornet.

Boeing also stated that it will also not be necessary to recruit, train and qualify several hundred new technicians and dozens of pilots for the Super Hornet, as the generals said.

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, according to the company.

Maintaining the Super Hornet is not as expensive as it detractors claims it to be, according to Boeing. It cited U.S. government estimates that the Super Hornet cost per flight hour is about US$16,000 – that’s lower than any other aircraft in the U.S. inventory.

“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/A18 Super Hornets,” said Boeing. “Ultimately Canadian taxpayers would see that the idea of acquiring legacy Hornets would be a much more expensive proposition than the generals’ letter claims.”