A few months ago I speculated that, given a (seemingly firm) promise to not buy the F-35, the Liberal government might select the French Rafale fighter because France might be willing to offer some major work to Bombardier in Quebec ~ a perpetual recipient of government “aid.” Now, in the National Post, Lee Berthiaume and John Ivison report that “The Liberal government is intent on buying Super Hornet fighter jets, according to multiple sources … [and] … Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s cabinet reportedly discussed the issue last week, and while no formal decision was taken, one top-level official said: “They have made up their minds and are working on the right narrative to support it.”“
The report goes on to say that “Rather than a full replacement of the air force’s aging CF-18 fighter fleet, it’s believed the purchase will be labelled an interim measure to fill what Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan has warned is a pending “gap” in Canada’s military capabilities.” The report also explains that this is what Australia has done.
The decision appears, to me, to me more influenced by campaign rhetoric that military or industrial considerations because, as the same report also notes:
“Liberal suggestions that Canada’s CF-18s are on their last legs appear to have come out of nowhere, after the previous Conservative government announced in 2014 that it was upgrading the CF-18s so they could continue to operate through 2025. That $400-million initiative was intended to buy the government time to make the right decision on a replacement.“
I suspect this is seen, in the PMO, as an easy way to get ticks in the Promise made/Promise kept box for the 2019 campaign. No mater how good the F-35 might be ~ and I’m told by many people who much,much more than I about modern aircraft that it is a great aircraft ~ it has been, perhaps irrevocably, tarnished in Canada through a combination of inept programme planning in the government, especially in DND, and an all out media attack on that aircraft in particular and Canadian defence procurement in general.
My guess is that buying the Super Hornet as an “interim” aircraft, would, simultaneously:
- Keep a campaign promise;
- Keep the US happy ~ it, raher than a European firm, gets the business;
- Avoid a messy lawsuit which might come about if the government says it is excluding the F-35 from consideration; and
- Defer the decisions on fighter aircraft for 20+ years; but
- Still leave question of “how to shovel taxpayers’ money into Bombardier?” to be addressed in some way.
The Super Hornet certainly has it proponents, or, perhaps, it’s just that the F-35 has a lot of opponents. I am not an advocate for (or against) any aircraft, but I do agree with Minister Sajjan that now is the time to make a decision … hopefully a good one,perhaps based on sound military-technical and financial considerations … not just election promises.