CDA Institute Blog: The Forum
General Paul Manson (Ret’d), a Council Advisor at the CDA Institute, wrote a piece on the Liberal plan for interim Super Hornets that has been submitted to the National Post. We are pleased to have his permission to post it on our Blog: The Forum.
The announcement by defence minister Harjit Sajjan that the Liberal government is proceeding toward the purchase of eighteen Super Hornet fighter aircraft as an “interim” measure has left many observers bewildered about where we stand in the long and tedious attempt by two governments to replace the RCAF’s old CF-18s. Although not a complete surprise (the government had been floating the Super Hornet option for several months), this latest move provides little comfort that the Liberals have a grip on the situation. Indeed, given the sparse information provided by the minister, his announcement raises numerous questions that need to be answered if Canadians are to be convinced that things are moving in the right direction.
Here are some of the questions that are being asked about the plan to buy Super Hornets.
On what basis was the plan devised? Were there substantial inputs from the military, especially the air force? Were experts consulted in such areas as strategic futures, interoperability with allied aircraft and systems, and industrial benefits? Were the full implications of doubling the number of fighter fleets examined, for example regarding duplication of training, infrastructure and logistic support? Were Canada’s NORAD and NATO allies asked for their opinions about the plan? Is the interim buy an outcome of the cross-Canada defence policy review initiated by the new government?
Were other fighter aircraft seriously considered as possibilities for an interim fleet? Was operational effectiveness the deciding factor in selecting the Super Hornet? Did the government consider going directly to an open competition, with obvious savings in time and money?
One particularly important question needs to be answered before the government can embark on negotiations for the purchase of an interim fleet, namely “What are the full costs of an interim buy?” There are two classic elements that have to be assessed before the full implications of a purchase can be understood, namely initial acquisition cost, and the subsequent costs incurred through the entire life cycle of the fleet. Because the Super Hornet is an older aircraft in service with only a few air forces, and having a limited long term support base due to an expected early end of production, the second of these factors will likely dominate. There is serious concern that the cost of purchasing and operating eighteen Super Hornets will be inordinately high, given the limited utility of such a small fleet and the aircraft’s substantial operational inferiority to fifth generation fighters like the F-35.
These and numerous other questions surrounding the Super Hornet plan will have to be answered if the government hopes to gain the understanding and support of Canadians who care about their armed forces and the security of the nation. Given the scarcity of information provided to date and the troubling uncertainty about the newly-announced proposal, it is suggested that a thorough review by an outside agency is needed, along the lines of the investigations carried out respectively by the Parliamentary Budget Officer and the Auditor General, as happened during the furor surrounding the F-35 when the Conservatives were in power. Only then would the best way ahead be evident.
Or better still, why doesn’t the government go directly to an open and transparent competition, as they promised in the election campaign?
Retired general Paul Manson is a former air force commander and chief of the defence staff. He is on the Council of Advisors at the CDA Institute.
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