Canada’s estimable Auditor General, Michael Ferguson, has, according to a report in the Globe and Mail, said that “The federal government has failed to put Canada’s fleet of CF-18s back into fighting shape, leaving the fighter jets unable to meet the country’s military requirements at home and abroad with no quick solution in sight.” This is not the first time that he has criticized the government of the day, Conservative and Liberal. He chastised the Harper Conservatives for their “failure to follow the appropriate process to replace Canada’s CF-18s, which were bought in the early 1980s and were set to be retired in 2020 … [and, now] … The Liberal government did not fare better in a new audit Mr. Ferguson released on Tuesday, given the fleet is now set to fly until 2032 despite shortages of aircraft, pilots and technicians. In its current state, the country’s fighter fleet is unable to meet Canada’s obligations under the North American Aerospace Defence Command (NORAD) and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the report said.“
With regard to the purchase of some used Australian F-18s, about which I have commented several times, he says that “the acquisition will not solve the military’s basic challenges. Nearly a quarter of technician positions on CF-18 squadrons were vacant or staffed with personnel who were not fully qualified, while new pilots are hard to hire … [thus, he said] … “The purchase will not fix the fundamental weaknesses with the fleet: the aircraft’s declining combat capability and the shortage of personnel.” The problem for the RCAF is the same as the one that faces the RCN and the Canadian Army: even if the services ever get enough of the right ships, tanks, trucks, radios and aircraft and so on they never have enough people to operate and maintain all those complex weapon and support systems. Successive governments, going all the way back to the late 1960s have ignored the basic fact that professional, standing armed forces are, above all, all about people ~ being able to recruit and retain enough of the right people is the most important challenge. Beginning with Pierre Trudeau in 1968, successive governments have tried to provide just barely enough resources for national defence so that the Americans will not violate our sovereignty too much as they seek to maintain their own security. The numbers of regular force sailors, soldiers and air force personnel have declined from 120,000 in the 1960s to just over half that number today. That’s too few, as I have said, to even begin to meet the commitments that any self-respecting G7 country should be ready, willing and able to shoulder.
“The federal government,” the Globe and mail’s reporters say “said it has spent the past three years getting ready to buy 88 new fighter jets that will be able to meet Canada’s NORAD and NATO requirements. This will be a bigger fleet than the 65 aircraft that the previous Conservative government had planned to acquire.” But all that Harjit Sajjan can do is to say that ““The Harper Conservatives mismanaged the fighter jet file and misled Canadians for over a decade … [but] … Unlike the Harper Conservatives, we will not compromise on our ability to meet our NATO and NORAD commitments,” while Conservative shadow Defence Minister James Bezan says that Minister Sajjan “is willing to spend billions trying to upgrade jets that are falling apart instead of investing that money into a new fighter fleet, and the Air Force cannot even recruit enough pilots, because they do not want to fly these old Australian fighter jets … [and, he asks] … When will the Prime Minister be honest with Canadians and with the Air Force members and cancel this purchase of obsolete Australian jets?”” Minister Sajjan is right: the Conservatives did mismanage the CF-18 replacement file but Team Trudeau’s solution, buying a bunch of ancient, used CF-18s is just wasteful fluff designed to convince and uncaring, uncritical media that they are doing something when their obvious plan is to do as little as possible for as long as they can manage.
It does not take three or four years to run a fair and open competition for new fighter jets, not, especially, now when the field is so small. There are a lot of good people in Treasury Board, Public Services and Procurement Canada, the government’s procurement agency and DND, the technical experts; I am reasonably confident that IF the Liberal government actually cared even a wee, tiny bit about Canada they could sign a contract for 85+ new fighter jets before then end of 2020 and delivery could being in 2022/23 and end before 2030 … but that would make the fighter jets an election issue so the Liberals, who care only about winning power, will defer and delay and dissemble.