Canada’s Liberal government has unveiled its new defence policy, proposing 88 new fighters for the Royal Canadian Air Force, but pushing back plans to acquire an interim fleet of 18 Boeng F/A-18E/F Super Hornets amid a rift between Boeing Commercial Aircraft and Bombardier.
At the top of Canada’s military aircraft priorities, defence minister Harjit Sajjan outlined the air force’s plan to acquire 88 new fighters – an increase from the previous government’s plan to purchase 65 jets – and to recapitalise the Lockheed Martin CP-140 Aurora anti-submarine warfare and surveillance fleet.
But the defence policy dodges a previous plan to acquire 18 Super Hornets as an interim solution for solving the service’s capability gap.
“At the time of publication, the Government of Canada is continuing to explore the potential acquisition of an interim aircraft to supplement the CF-18 fighter aircraft fleet until the completion of the transition to the permanent replacement aircraft,” the policy document states.
Last week, Canadian defence officials said talks with Boeing over the interim deal had dissolved after the US company accused Bombardier of "dumping" its CSeries jet onto the US market. During a defence policy roll-out, officials said the interim deal had been “interrupted and the moment”, but that the larger procurement of 88 aircraft would remain an independent and open competition.
Outside of fighters, Canada plans to invest in intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance platforms, including remotely piloted aircraft (RPA), and in several other aircraft recapitalisation efforts. Its new policy document outlines the need to invest in the air force’s next-generation strategic air-to-air tanker/transport capability, which would replace the Airbus A310-based CC-150 Polaris, and the de Havilland Canada CC-138 Twin Otter utility transport replacement. The government plans to acquire a next generation multi-mission aircraft to replace the CP-140 Aurora maritime patrol aircraft, and to fund medium-altitude RPA.
Canada also plans to make its fixed-wing search and rescue aircraft fleet operational, though Leonardo has challenged a contract award to Airbus Defence & Space with the C295.
In part, Canada’s new defence policy could be seen as a response to US President Donald Trump’s threats to NATO members to contribute their fair share. Canada has proposed a 70% increase to its defence budget over the next decade, from $19 billion annually to $32.7 billion. Those numbers isolated may seem robust, but total forecast defence spending as a percentage of gross domestic product is projected to reach 1.4% by 2024, according to the new policy document.
That would remain short of the 2% of GDP contribution recommended by NATO. Canadian defence officials appeared cagey when asked about the source of funding and whether it would remain predictable over the next decade, but Sajjan says funding exists.