The Current

Super Hornet jet announcement continues saga of CF-18 replacement

Canada's decision to purchase 18 hornet fighter jets without proper tendering has some experts up in arms over what they say perpetuates the culture of waste and non-transparency.
Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan announces the purchase of 18 Super Hornet fighter jets 0:50

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Defence minister Harjit Sajjan has announced that Canada will purchase 18 Super Hornet jet fighters — calling them an interim solution.

But it's not clear exactly when they'll be purchased, or how much they'll cost. 

Parliamentary secretary to the minister of national defenceJohn McKay tells The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti why the government is planning to buy 18 Super Hornet fighter jets from Boeing. 

We have times where we are not been able to meet our NATO and NORAD's requirements, let alone do anything else, including any kind of incident such as 9/11. So it's just simply a risk that we're not prepared to continue to manage.- John McKay, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence 

The CF-18 Hornets currently in use in Canada were acquired in March 1980. At the time, the life expectancy of the CF-18 was about 20 years. But their life has been extended through upgrades.

McKay says the old airplanes have been well-maintained but the fleet has gone down from 138 to 77.

"A certain number have to be mission-ready all the time. And so the the margin of flexibility is just simply not there, and it's reasonable to anticipate over the next number of years that 77 number will decline even further."​

When McKay was pressed for a cost of the jets, he said he had an idea but "at this point" was not publicly disclosing the information.

Shortly after coming to power Stephen Harper's Conservative government began exploring how to replace Canada's F-18s in Aug., 2007. (Staff Sgt. Perry Aston/U.S. Air Force/Canadian Press)

On July 16, 2010, then Defence Minister Peter MacKay announced that Canada would buy 65 F-35 Lightning II aircraft at a cost of $9 billion. But less than a year later, Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page released lifetime cost estimates for those F-35s go cost $29.3 billion USD over 30 years.

McKay tells Tremonti it will take five years for the procurement to happen.

Politicizing procurement 

The saga of the CF-18 fleet is just one chapter in the larger story of Canadian defence procurement - a process that Queen's University professorKim Richard Nossaldescribes as broken.

He understands the government needs equipment but says the question is how to actually deliver capability?

"I mean one possibility is indeed to extend the lives of the old CF-18's even further and that's certainly what the Harper government was thinking of doing when it resets the program in December of 2012," Nossal tells Tremonti.

"Right now there's no reason why it has to be kicked down the road as it has. Unless of course you want a political consequence." - Kim Richard Nossel, professor in political science, Queen's Univeristy

Nossal, author of Charlie Foxtrot: Fixing Defence Procurement in Canada, believes the mismanagement of the CF-18's replacement by the Conservatives from 2010 onwards is responsible for where we are today, and their "politicization of that procurement led the liberals to politicize their sole-source decision."

"So really what we've got here is a situation where both the Liberals and the Conservatives are in fact wasting large amounts of taxpayer's money," says Nossal.

"Essentially Canadian politicians on both sides of politics have to, it seems to me, be far more bipartisan in the way in which they approach these huge procurements — recognizing that in fact most procurements extend well beyond the life of the parliament."

Listen to the full conversation at the top of this web post.

This segment was produced by The Current's Kristin Nelson and Karin Marley.