Canada·In Depth

A history of Canada's CF-18 Hornets

The CF-18 Hornet was commissioned in 1980 by the Canadian military, which in 1977 issued a call for tender for the manufacture of 130 to 150 new fighter jets in order to replace its aging fleet.

First CF-18s delivered to Canadian military in 1982

Aircraft manufacturer McDonnell-Douglas modelled the CF-18 Hornet on a similar U.S. fighter jet and made the planes for the Canadian military from 1982 to 1988. (Cpl. Marc-André Gaudreault/DND/Canadian Press)

The CF-18 Hornet was commissioned in 1980 by the Canadian military, which in 1977 issued a call for tender for the manufacture of 130 to 150 new fighter jets in order to replace its aging fleet.

McDonnell-Douglas, which later merged with Boeing, won the contract. Its design of the CF-18 Hornet was based on a variant of the U.S. military's F/A-18 Hornet fighter jet. The major difference between the two is the CF-18's sideward-aimed searchlight for night vision, which is mounted beneath the plane's fuselage.

The first CF-18s were delivered to the Canadian military in 1982 and produced until 1988.

What improvements have been made?

During deployment in the 1991 Gulf War and the 1998 Kosovo conflict, it became apparent that some of the avionics on the CF-18 had become obsolete and incompatible with other NATO planes. The weaponry aboard the CF-18s was also out of date. A nine-year, two-phase modernization was undertaken by Boeing in 2001.

Phase 1, completed in 2006, included an upgrade of the plane's avionics, radio and radar and the addition of improved weaponry. Phase 2, completed in 2010, featured the installation of the Link 16 tactical data exchange system, allowing for better communication with NATO allies, as well as the installation of a new weapons-targeting system and a flight data recorder.

Canadian Forces' fleet of CF-18 Hornets has been improved such that the jets' capabilities closely resemble those of the U.S. navy's F/A-18 E/F Super Hornets. The CF-18s can carry the same payload as the Super Hornets and are equipped with identical weapons. The Super Hornets, however, are bigger and lighter than the CF-18s and have a larger combat radius.

CF-18 Hornet

Manufactured: 1982-1988.

Engine type: General Electric F404-GE-400 (the CF-18 has two).


Height: 4.66 m.

Length: 17.07 m.

Wingspan: 12.31 m.

Max payload: 6,800 kg.

Internal fuel capacity: Around 6,780 kg.

External fuel capacity: Five 1,800-litre tanks.

Maximum take-off weight: 23,400 kg


Maximum speed: Mach 1.8 or 1,900 km/h at 11,000 metres.

Range (without mid-air refuelling): 2,340 km (with ordinance).

Combat radius: 537 km.


Air-to-air: Four AIM-9 or AIM-120 AMRAAM infrared-guided missiles and two AIM-7 radar-guided missiles.

Air-to-ground artillery: AGM-65 Maverick infrared-guided missile.

Bombs: Mark 80 series (No.'s 82, 83,84); GBU series (No.'s 10, 12, 16, 24) laser-guided bombs.

Gun: One M61A1 Vulcan (mounted inside nose of aircraft).

How many CF-18 jets does the Canadian Forces have?

Canadian Forces Air Command has 77 CF-18 jets in operational use. They are based out of CFB Bagotville in Quebec and CFB Cold Lake in Alberta, although a few are stationed at CFB Trenton, in part for the protection of Ontario's nuclear facilities.

CF-18 fighter jets operate in the following squadrons:

CFB Bagotville

  • No. 425 Alouette Tactical Fighter Squadron.

CFB Cold Lake:

  • No. 409 Nighthawks Tactical Fighter Squadron.
  • No. 410 Cougars Tactical Fighter (Operational Training) Squadron.

What combat missions have used CF-18 jets?

In 1991, the Canadian Forces deployed 24 CF-18s to aid the U.S. in Operation Desert Storm and Desert Shield during the first Gulf War. These aircraft were based out of Qatar and flew over 5,700 hours, participating in 56 bombing missions. This deployment represented Canada's first engagement in combat since the Korean War.

CF-18s were also deployed to Italy to aid in operations in the former Yugoslavia. The aircraft first helped with air patrols in 1997, supporting NATO peacekeepers in Bosnia and Herzegovina. In June 1999, 18 CF-18s began participating in NATO air strikes against Serbian forces, conducting 10 per cent of all strikes, including 558 bombing missions.

Since then, CF-18s have played a major part in Operation Noble Eagle, the NORAD mission to protect the skies over the U.S. and Canada. They have been deployed to protect the airspace over Alaska and have most recently seen action as part of Operation Podium, the security mission to protect the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.

The Canadian Forces CF-18 aircraft were also used during a 2011 UN-approved NATO mission in Libya. The aircraft were used to conduct a total of 946 sorties during the uprising against Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi.

The fighter jets were also used in the U.S.-led mission against ISIS in Iraq and Syria from October 2014 to February 2016. The CF-18s conducted 1378 sorties, resulting in 251 airstrikes.

How many CF-18 jets have been downed?

The Canadian Forces have lost 19 CF-18 jets, the latest in a crash near CFB Cold Lake in November 2016. At least 10 CF-18 pilots have been killed. No CF-18s have been lost in combat.

CF-18 jets were first used in combat during the 1991 Gulf War and were later part of NATO operations in the former Yugoslavia. (Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press)

What other countries use the CF-18?

The CF-18 Hornet is unique to the Canadian Forces. The United States has 647 F/A-18 A-D jets, which are used by the navy and the marines. The navy also has 336 F/A-18 E/F Super Hornets. The following countries use variants of the F/A-18 Hornet: Australia, Finland, Kuwait, Malaysia, Spain and Switzerland. Australia also operates 24 Super Hornets.

What is the future of the CF-18 in the Canadian Forces?

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan last November said the government will launch a replacement program for the entire existing fleet of CF-18s before the end of the Liberal government's term.

He said there will be an open competition to produce a new fleet that will be fully operational by the late 2020s. The previous Conservative government had planned to stop operating the current fleet by 2025. 

Sajjan also announced plans to buy 18 Boeing Super Hornet jet fighters.


  • An earlier version of this story said the CF-18 Hornet was based on the C/D variant of the U.S. military's F/A-18 Hornet fighter jet. In fact, the CF-18 Hornet was adapted from the U.S. F/A-18 Hornet fighter jet. The C/D variant was introduced in 1987.
    Mar 02, 2017 9:41 AM ET


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