First controversial fighter jets from Australia touch down
This weekend, two F-18 fighter jets from Australia touched down in Cold Lake, Alta.
The new additions to the Royal Canadian Air Force’s Hornet fleet are the first of 18 bought from Australia in an attempt to address Canada’s fighter aircraft shortage.
But they’re not new.
The aircraft—expected to cost $471 million after the purchase and any needed modifications—were previously used for nearly 30 years by the Royal Australian Air Force.
The jets landed in Alberta on Saturday amidst criticism.
“If you’re running technologies from the late 70s, you’re just simply not keeping pace with the modern threat environment,” said David Perry, a Toronto-based defence expert at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute.
The announcement of their purchase last year sparked a warning from the former federal auditor general. In a report, Michael Ferguson said the military shouldn’t be buying planes while it already has too few pilots and mechanics to operate the current fleet.
However, the Department of National Defence has stood by its decision.
“These aircraft are the same type as Canada’s current CF-18 fleet and can be integrated quickly into our fleet,” the department said Sunday in a press release.
“Modifications and technical work will begin immediately so they can be brought to a similar configuration to Canada’s CF-18 aircraft,” the department added. “The work will continue to be done by Canadian companies.”
Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan called the purchase “key” to ensuring Canada can fulfill its international obligations.
“We are familiar with these aircraft and are confident that they can provide the additional support our current fleet requires,” Sajjan said.
Perry is less convinced.
“We really should have replaced these 10 years ago,” he said.
“The current government, I think, just fundamentally spent the first two-and-a-half to three years [of their political term] effectively stalling or not using their time productively.”
Retired fighter pilot Jock Williams is glad Canada finally took action.
“I hate the way it was done, but I like that we did it,” he told CTV News.
“Our technicians already know how to take care of them and our pilots already know how to fly them, so it's the best of both worlds.”
But that is one more criticism, in Perry’s view: “There's circumstances where people coming through pilot training would have the option to fly RC-18s that their grandparents would have, and that's a tough selling proposition.”
The two jets—and the 16 others that will continue to arrive over the next three years—will be used between now and 2032, when 88 new fighter aircraft are expected to go in to operation.
With files from Timm Bruch