CF-18 Fighter Aircraft Modernization

Tasneem Jamal

The Ploughshares Monitor September 2000 Volume 21 Issue 3

The Department of National Defence (DND) has begun a multi-year incremental program to modernize the Air Force fleet of CF-18 fighter aircraft. Unlike most other DND major capital projects, the modernization effort will be made up of several smaller programs, none of which is likely to attract media or public interest based on their cost alone. Yet the total modernization program budget of $1.2-billion, combined with additional programs to provide the aircraft with weapons and related equipment worth hundreds of millions, makes modernization of the CF-18 fleet one of the larger DND capital equipment projects.

The CF-18 Hornet fighter aircraft was delivered to the Canadian Air Force between 1982 and 1988 by US-based McDonnell Douglas Aircraft Co., now a part of the giant Boeing Inc. In a contract worth $5.2-billion B at the time the largest military contract in Canadian history B 132 of the aircraft were ordered to replace older CF-101, CF-104, and CF-5 combat aircraft and their differing roles.

The CF-18 is used in both air defence and tactical fighter roles in operations within Canada (in support of NORAD for example) and overseas (such as in support of NATO). During the 1991 Gulf War, 24 CF-18s participated in the American-led Desert Storm campaign against Iraq, mostly in combat air patrol missions to protect naval ships but also in bombing missions in the last stages of the war. In 1997 Canadian pilots flew CF-18s in air patrol missions over Bosnia as part of NATO=s Stabilization Force (SFOR) operations there. The aircraft returned to combat in 1999 when CF-18s flew hundreds of bombing missions over Kosovo and Serbia using precision-guided weapons and other bombs.

The CF-18 Incremental Modernization began in November 1998 with approval for the expenditure of $68-million to purchase new flight program software and mission computers. An additional 11 projects spread out over an anticipated 10 years will include radio upgrades and new radar equipment. The intention is to extend the life expectancy of the aircraft from 2003 to 2010 and beyond. DND plans to limit the modernization program to 80 aircraft and, to raise funds for the total program, to sell the remaining 42 aircraft of its current fleet of 122 CF-18s.

Meanwhile, the Department is spending additional monies on supplying the CF-18 with new weapons. These include $19-million for a short range air-to-air weapon being developed under an international program and $102-million for precision guided air-to-surface missiles, many of which were used during the Kosovo bombings. These capital expenditures are quite apart from ongoing CF-18 maintenance and repair costs which will continue for the modernized aircraft. In July 1999, for example, Harris Canada Inc of Calgary received a 10-year contract worth $164-million to test and repair CF-18 avionics. Similarly, a month later Bombardier Inc of Montreal received a $118-million contract as the latest for ongoing CF-18 systems engineering support and repair and overhaul of airframes.

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