Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan has pushed the purchase of new fighter jets to the top of his priority list, stating the current fleet of CF-18s can hardly fulfill its domestic and international mandates, according to theglobeandmail.com.
“Our fleet of CF-18s need to be replaced now. And the fact they have not been replaced means we are facing a capability gap in the years ahead,” Mr. Sajjan said in a speech on Thursday morning.
“Now, we did not create this issue. Unfortunately I inherited it, but it needs to be dealt with quickly,” he said, blaming the previous Conservative government for failing to buy a replacement plane.
Mr. Sajjan made the comments at the CANSEC defence and military trade show in Ottawa, where the world’s biggest aircraft manufacturers are lobbying federal officials on the merits of their respective product.
Lockheed Martin, which makes the F-35 stealth fighter, has a large presence at CANSEC, despite the Liberal Party’s promise in the last election not to buy its airplane.
Speaking to reporters, Mr. Sajjan refused to state whether any aircraft manufacturer will be prevented from bidding on the multi-billion-dollar contract.
“As I said from the get-go, right now my focus is on making sure that our men and women in the Air Force have the right capabilities and my focus is replacing the F-18s,” Mr. Sajjan said, refusing to lay out a specific timeline for the purchase.
Canada remains an official partner in the F-35 program, which has allowed Canadian firms to win contracts for the international production line. Still, Mr. Sajjan said that will not influence the government’s handling of the procurement process.
The supersonic CF-188 Hornet, or CF-18 as it is popularly known, based on F/C-18 and can engage both ground and aerial targets. Its twin engines generate enough thrust to lift 24 full-size pick-up trucks off the ground.
As the Royal Canadian Air Force’s frontline multi-role fighter, the modernized CF-18 is used for air defence, air superiority, tactical support, training, aerobatic demonstration, and aerospace testing and evaluation.
Canada’s first operational deployment of the CF-18 took place during the Gulf War, when Canada sent 24 CF-18s to Qatar to participate in the American-led Desert Shield and Desert Storm campaigns. Similarly, Canada deployed 18 CF-18s to Italy to take part in the Kosovo campaign in 1999.
Since the September 11 terrorist attacks, Canada’s fighter force is committed to protecting North America from future threats. As part of Operation Noble Eagle, NORAD’s mission to safeguard North American skies, CF-18s maintain a constant state of alert, ready to respond immediately to potential threats to continental security.
CF-18s were heard over the skies of British Columbia, where they provided around the clock support to the 2010 Olympic Games. In 2011, they played a vital role during Op Mobile, as part of a NATO-led effort to enforce an arms embargo and no-fly zone to protect civilians in Libya in support of the United Nations Security Council Resolutions 1970 and 1973. Seven CF-18s made up Task Force Libeccio, conducting 946 sorties, ten percent of NATO strike sorties, and dropping 696 bombs of various types to engage military assets threatening the civilian population.