Canada to buy Super Hornets as F-35 hits setbacks

The Canadian government is in negotiations to buy 18 Super Hornet fighter jets, a blow to the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program, which was originally envisioned to replace Canada’s 30-plus-year-old CF-18 Hornet fleet.

Canadian officials will explore upgrading the country’s aircraft to the Super Hornet as an interim option before final decisions are made for an open competition — a process that could still include procuring the F-35 for its aging fleet.

Just not yet.

The Liberal Party of Canada, headed by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, on Tuesday announced an urgent need for “a new squadron of interim aircraft” and turned to Boeing to recapitalize the country’s CF-18s.

U.S. Air Force F/A-18Fs being refueled over Afghanistan in 2010.

U.S. Air Force F/A-18Fs being refueled over Afghanistan in 2010. | U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Andy M. Kin

Defense Minister Harjit Sajjan said during a press conference in Ottawa that the overuse of Canada’s McDonnell Douglas-made CF-18 fleet “would carry risk this government is not willing to take” to sustain current supplemental operations in NATO and the North American Aerospace Defense Command, or NORAD.

Competition to purchase an entirely new fighter jet will come at a later date, Sajjan said.

“The government will launch, in its current mandate, a wide-open and transparent competition to replace the CF-18 fleet,” he said.

Even though Canada has been in discussions for years to purchase approximately 60  F-35 jets, lawmakers have grown weary of setbacks in the stealth jet program.

In June, Trudeau called the aircraft one that “does not work and is far from working.”

In the latest setback, a Marine Corps F-35B based out of Beaufort, South Carolina, caught fire in mid-air last month. The service is investigating the incident.

In September, the Air Force ordered a temporary stand-down of 13 out of 104 F-35s in its fleet “due to the discovery of peeling and crumbling insulation in avionics cooling lines inside the fuel tanks,” according to a statement at the time. Two additional aircraft, belonging to Norway and stationed atLuke Air Force Base, Arizona, also were affected.

The 13 F-35s, plus the two belonging to Norway, are back up and running, according to a story from Defense News on Friday.

In a statement Tuesday, Lockheed Martin said that although it is “disappointed with this decision, we remain confident the F-35 is the best solution to meet Canada’s operational requirements at the most affordable price, and the F-35 has proven in all competitions to be lower in cost than 4th generation competitors.”

“The F-35 is combat ready and available today to meet Canada’s needs for the next 40 years,” the statement said.

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