The F/A-18E Super Hornet is what Canada Needs

Does Canada need a fifth-generation stealth multirole fighter? I don’t think so.

Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II
Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II

As a matter of fact, beside the F-35 fiasco in general, Canada cannot afford such an expensive plane that had limited capabilities. A project worth more than $8 billion at the start, many experts now evaluate it at more than $49 billion. This might include all acquisition, sustainment and operating costs but does not guarantee the price won’t go up again due other issues with the aircraft.

What Canada needs is a solid multirole fighter that can carry a wide array of weapons. Unfortunately, the F-35 has not been designed to do so.

Aside from its two internal bay, the F-35 only has 6 external pylons capable of carrying 15,000 lb of weaponry. As for the internal bays, it only has two pylons with a capacity of 3,000 lb. It also has a 25 mm GAU-22A gatling gun, internally mounted with 180 rounds.

What amazed me is that the Conservatives were selling this to the Canadian as a stealth aircraft but forgot to mention that carrying missiles on external pylons clearly dismisses the stealth features.

Another problem with the F-35 is its manoeuvrability. With a 35-foot wingspan, the aircraft cannot execute fast turns or climbs fast enough to hit an enemy fighter jet. As a matter of fact, during a dogfight test against an F-16D Block 40–the F-35 is supposed to replace them–it wasn’t able to win the engagement. Even while flying clean–no weapons in its internal bays or under its wings and fuselage–and the F-16 flying with two underwing drop tanks, it wasn’t able to clearly engage the F-16.

The F-16D Block 40 entered service with the United States Air Force in 1988. Basically, a fifth-generation fighter can’t outmanoeuvre and destroy a 30-year-old jet. I wonder how this would work against a Sukhoi Su-30 or Su-35.

Canada has no intentions to conduct airstrikes against a sophisticated enemy that has state-of-the-art radars and is no need of a stealth fighter aircraft. Even if it was the case, China claims it already can track the F-35. That said, it is most likely a lie but it could be done in the next few years.

Canada needs a multirole fighter capable of filling the gaps for the next 20 years. The government would then have two decades to decide whether Canada will keep a fleet of fighter aircraft or turn toward dogfight-capable drones, if available. Until then, I believe the F/A-18E Super Hornet would perfectly suit Canada’s need.

Canada could also look into the Stealth UCAV such as the Boeing Phantom Ray to conduct stealth ground attack if they really want that capability. I will look into those at a later time, though.

The F/A-18E Super Hornet Is What Canada Needs

The Boeing F/A-18E Super Hornet would be a great cost-effective alternative. Adding to that, with our NORAD commitment, I believe an aircraft designed and operated by both members of the Command will prove more useful.

Boeing F/A-18E Super Hornet
Boeing F/A-18E Super Hornet

Despite the possibility of closing the production line in 2017, Boeing is ready keep the line open to produce the future Canadian fighter aircraft. Although many will argue that spare-parts might become scarce, I am positive Canada would include maintenance and sustainment costs in the contract to keep the aircraft flying.

That said, Super Hornet backlog takes deliveries into 2018. As for the spare parts, the U.S. Navy will be flying Super Hornets beyond 2040 and so spare parts will not be an issue.

The Super Hornet would cost less than half of the F-35, going from approximately $180 million to $65 million per aircraft. Adding to that Boeing could start production quickly after the contract is signed without any delays.

There is always some lead time needed, but Boeing has a hot production line and will be building Super Hornets for years to come.

For the same price, Canada would have 130 Super Hornets instead of 65 F-35. The Royal Canadian Air Force would have more flexibility in managing its aircraft; some could be on permanent standby, some allocated for training and some on deployment.

The reason why I believe the Super Hornet would be the best alternative for Canada is due to its multirole abilities. Although it’s a 4++ generation and not a fifth, the F/A-18E is far superior when it comes to Canada’s needs.

First, it features 11 hard points and a M61A2 Vulcan gatling-style cannon with 400 rounds. Compared to the F-35, the Super Hornet can carry 3 more missiles and has 220 more rounds, perfect for air-to-air combat.

Slightly faster, Mach 1.8 compared to Mach 1.6, the F/A-18E is better at intercepting incoming aircraft, a primordial feature especially in the Arctic. It is also more maneuverable at high speed.

Another important issue is the ‘cost per flight hour’ (CPFH) as well. The Super Hornet would cost $24K less per hour to operate:

F/A-18E Super Hornet — +- $17K / hour
F-35A — +- $42K / hour

That’s a pretty big difference, especially for a small Defence budget like Canada has. We have A LOT of ground to cover being the second largest country in the world, so we’re better off with a great aircraft that has a lower CPFH.

The twin engines of the Super Hornet make it safer for Arctic operations. The F-35 runs on a single engine, and a simple failure could mean disaster. The fact that it is a carrier-based fighter makes it capable of flying in horrible weather conditions.

The EA-18G Growler Would Be Great for Canada

By choosing the F/A-18E Super Hornet, Canada would have the ability to train its pilots on the Growler as well. Canada would greatly benefit of adding a few Growlers to its fleet.

The Growler is a fantastic aircraft capable of conducting electronic warfare (EW). Capable of doing radar jamming and deception, the Growler would enable the Super Hornet to effectively conduct airstrikes without being followed by enemy radars.

Boeing EA-18G Growler
Boeing EA-18G Growler

Having EW-capable aircraft would also enable Canada to jam incoming aircraft during the interception mission in the Arctic. That said, Canada would have to train weapon systems officers (WSO) to assist the pilot in the aircraft.

According to Foxtrot Alpha, the Super Hornet design was created with great commonality with the first generation Hornet in mind. This includes similar maintenance procedures, training doctrine, avionics and especially pilot familiarity.

Foxtrot Alpha made an excellent analysis on the Super Hornet and how it would be better than the F-35. I strongly advise you to consult it!

This article was first published on The Huffington Post Canada Blog.


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Jonathan Wade, CD

Jonathan Wade is the director of the ‘The Sentinel Analytical Group’ and a decorated veteran of the Canadian Forces. Specialized in tactical, strategic, intelligence and geopolitics analysis, Jonathan has a fondness for technical details. His military experience brought him valuable insight on the realities of conflicts and war. A combat veteran of Afghanistan, Jonathan brings in in-theatre experience. Jonathan writes about Russia, Canada and Arctic.