Royal Canadian Air Force Boeing CF-18 Hornets upgraded under the country’s Hornet Extension Project (HEP) have achieved initial operational capability (IOC).

The IOC milestone sees six upgraded aircraft delivered under the project’s second phase, with full operational capability to be attained by March 2026.

CF-18 Canada

Source: Royal Canadian Air Force

Canadian CF-18s are expected to serve until 2032

“Six operational CF-18s have been delivered to 3 Wing Bagotville as part of the Hornet Extension Project,” says the RCAF.

“This provides new capabilities to the CF-18 fleet, allowing it to contribute to domestic and international missions as we transition to the new [Lockheed Martin] CF-35 fighter aircraft.”

Ottawa’s CF-18 HEP was launched in 2020. The first phase involves a range of upgrades for “up to 84 CF-18 aircraft”. These include a new identification friend or foe transponder, a new Link 16 tactical radio, upgrades to the mission computer and software, targeting pod upgrades, night vision cueing devices, and other improvements.

The more extensive phase two upgrades will ultimately apply to 36 CF-18s and bring significant capability improvements.

In addition to new short- and medium-range air-to-air missiles, fighters that undergo the phase two work receive a new active electronically scanned array radar in the form of the Raytheon APG-79(V)4.

In addition, phase two covers improved planning systems and simulator enhancements.

The HEP will allow the type to serve until 2032, when the RCAF’s fleet of CF-35s should be fully operational. In 2023, Canada finalised a deal to obtain 88 F-35s, with the first example to arrive in 2026.

Cirium fleets data indicates that the RCAF has 92 in-service F-18s, comprising 85 CF-18A/Bs and seven F/A-18A/Bs that formerly served with the Royal Australian Air Force.