Canada could decide an end date for airstrikes in Iraq and Syria within weeks, and the country’s new defence minister is also assessing other Royal Canadian Air Force roles there.
In addition to six Boeing CF-18 fighter jets, Canada has deployed one Airbus C-150T Polaris aerial refuelling tanker and two CP-140M Aurora surveillance turboprops in support of the coalition air campaign against the Islamic State terrorist group.
“I’m reviewing all assets,” says defence minister Harjit Sajjan, who spoke to reporters via telephone from Erbil in northern Iraq. He was responding specifically to Flightglobal’s question about the future of other deployed refuelling and surveillance aircraft as CF-18s are withdrawn.
“Our commitment was to end the airstrikes, and I’m looking at all the capabilities that can be of great value to the coalition, and that’s one aspect that’s I’m looking at very seriously.”
The Boeing CF-18 Hornet is Canada's front-line combat jet.
Sajjan confirmed reports that a decision on the CF-18 deployment could come in weeks.
Canada’s Liberal government assumed power in October after pledging to withdraw the CF-18 while ramping up train-and-assist support on the ground.
“Just because we’re going to be ending airstrikes, our air force is extremely busy with other missions,” says Sajjan, a new-elected member of Parliament and veteran army officer. “We have our NORAD commitment, we have other options of commitments within NATO as well. Plus, we can ever forget, our pilots continue to train and maintain a level of capability so they can be ready for future missions as well.”
The government’s pledge to withdraw the CF-18 has been roundly condemned by conservative politicians, particularly as other nations ramp up airstrikes following the recent terrorist attacks in Paris. Last week, two CF-18s helped repel an attack on Canadian and Kurdish soldiers at a training ground near Mosul, Iraq.
Sajjan emphasised that there have been few discussion about the impact of withdrawing the CF-18 during his tour of the Middle East. He says CF-18 crews can leave “very proud” of their contribution, and can instead focus on other commitments.
CF-18s have conducted 1,221 sorties since joining the air campaign in 2014, the government disclosed on 19 December. The CC-150T Polaris has made 329 flights and delivered approximately 900t of cargo in support of Operation Impact, while the CP-140 Aurora has conducted 356 reconnaissance missions.