ARLINGTON, Va. — The Navy is looking at ways to accelerate the phase-out of F/A-18C “Classic” Hornet strike fighters from its carrier air wings and replacing the last few squadrons with F/A-18E Super Hornets, a Navy spokeswoman said.
“As we balance operational requirements and our initiatives to build the most capable and ready forward-deployed force, we are identifying the most efficient and effective way to safely transition the last four Navy operational Hornet squadrons to Super Hornets,” Cmdr. Jeannie Groeneveld, public affairs officer for commander, Naval Air Forces, said in an e-mail to Seapower.
“In order to provide our most capable warfighting force forward, the Navy began the first of the final transitions of our four operational F/A-18C Hornet squadrons to F/A-18E Super Hornet squadrons in July, with an expected completion in [fiscal] ’19. Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 131, was the first of the four squadrons to begin the transition last month.”
The other three F/A-18C squadrons, all based at Naval Air Station Oceana, Va., are VFA-34, VFA-37 and VFA-83.
“Accelerating the transition to Super Hornets will allow cost savings and reduce depot maintenance workload,” Groeneveld said. “As the Navy approaches the end of the extended service life for Hornets, the cost per flight hour continues to increase. Additionally, there are shortages in the Department of the Navy’s spare parts and supply system that have contributed to flight line readiness challenges, as well as our ability to extend the service lives of these airframes.”
She also said the transitions give the Navy the opportunity to select its best-condition Hornets for use by the Marine Corps and by Navy support and reserve units, such as Naval Aviation Warfighting Development Center, Fighter Composite Squadron 12, Reserve squadron VFA-204 and the Navy’s Flight Demonstration Squadron, the Blue Angels.
The Navy is confident it will be able to continue to support all operational requirements as it completes transition of the Hornet fleet to Super Hornets,” she said.
Congress has supported the Navy’s requirements for increased Super Hornet procurement to bridge the gap to the fleet introduction of the F-35C Lightning II strike fighter. The first fleet squadron to make the transition to the F-35C will be VFA-147 in 2018.
The Queen Elizabeth is now in British waters to take part in the training exercise known as Saxon Warrior, where it is hosting 60 members of the British Royal Navy and Royal Marines. The training began on August 1.
The British carrier was on its way to Portsmouth after more than two months of sea trials in the North Sea.
The UK has 10 F-35 fighter jets, a Ministry of Defence spokesman told Business Insider UK, but none is in the country. The US contractor Lockheed Martin built them, and they are scheduled to be delivered to the UK in 2018. The earliest they could fly live combat missions is 2020.
The ministry expects to have 138 F-35s in the 2020s, the spokesman added.
U.S. Navy aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush and ships from its carrier strike group arrived in Portsmouth, UK, today ahead of a major two-week drill.
Accompanied by the USS Philippine Sea, USS Donald Cook and Norwegian ship HNoMS Helge Insgstad, the aircraft carrier is on the final leg of its deployment in support of operation Inherent Resolve, the fight against ISIS.
The Nimitz-class carrier has UK personnel on board as part of the UK-US Long Lead Specialist Skills Programme which qualifies them in US carrier operations in preparation for the arrival of HMS Queen Elizabeth and the UK’s own carrier strike capability.
Also embarked is Commander UK Carrier Strike Group Commodore Andrew Betton and his team for Exercise Saxon Warrior 17 – a joint maritime exercise that will focus how the two nations work together during a number of challenging scenarios around the UK coastline.
“Exercise Saxon Warrior is a large, multinational joint exercise which involves fifteen warships from five different nations, submarines, over 100 aircraft and about 9,000 personnel,” said Cdre Betton.
“The UK contribution will be two Type 23 frigates supporting the US aircraft carrier, a Royal Navy submarine, the Carrier Strike Group UK battle staff, fixed wing and rotary wing aircraft operating from ashore, and then the central training staff who will based in Faslane in Scotland.”
The exercise, which begins once the group leaves Portsmouth, will also be key to ensuring UK personnel are fully equipped ahead of the arrival of the Royal Navy’s new Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carrier, HMS Queen Elizabeth.
Over the next fortnight U.S. Naval personnel will train side-by-side with UK pilots, engineers and deck handlers to build combined maritime and aviation capability and capacity.
The Type 23 frigates taking part in Ex Saxon Warrior will be Portsmouth-based HMS Iron Duke and HMS Westminster who will be joined by Royal Fleet Auxiliary fast fleet tanker Wave Ruler.
OTTAWA — The head of the Royal Canadian Air Force has refuted suggestions, including from more than a dozen of his predecessors, that the Trudeau government is needlessly dragging its feet on new fighter jets.
Lt.-Gen. Mike Hood instead said the Liberals are taking “a prudent amount of time,” as choosing Canada’s next fighter is a big decision — especially since it will likely be in use for decades.
“Fighter operations, there is a lot to chew on,” Hood said in an interview with The Canadian Press.
“The timelines the government and the minister have articulated will let them be absolutely sure that they’re making the right choice for a final fighter that will probably be flying when I’m going to the grave.”
The Liberals’ new defence policy includes a promise to replace Canada’s 76 aging CF-18s with 88 new warplanes, which is an increase from the 65 previously promised by the Harper Conservatives.
The policy estimates the new fighters will cost between $15 billion and $19 billion, up from the $9 billion previously budgeted by the Tories.
The Liberals say the extra fighter jets are required to meet a new policy, adopted in September, that increased the number of warplanes that must always be ready for operations.
But fighter-jet companies such as Lockheed Martin and Boeing, which make the F-35 and Super Hornet, respectively, won’t be asked to submit formal bids until next year at the earliest.
That is despite many defence experts, including 13 retired Air Force commanders in February, saying a competition to replace the CF-18 fleet can and should be launched immediately.
They say doing so would negate the need for 18 “interim” Super Hornets, which would save taxpayer dollars and keep from diverting personnel and resources away from other areas of the Air Force.
But Hood played down those concerns, saying that he’ll have no trouble operating an interim fighter fleet if “I’m given the resources and the priority that I need.”
That doesn’t mean there won’t be challenges in growing the size of Canada’s fighter fleet, he admitted, notably in terms of having enough pilots and technicians to fly and fix the new jets.
The problem has been exacerbated by the fact that while airlines are currently on a hiring binge, Hood said, the Air Force can’t ramp up the number of pilots it puts through flight school each year.
“We brought in a pilot-training system in the early 2000s that had a maximum capacity to deliver about 115 pilots a year. With attrition going up, I’d probably want to produce 140 this year, but I can’t.”
However, Hood is hoping planned changes to the training regime and new initiatives such as recruiting potential technicians directly out of community college will help grow his ranks.
At the same time, the military is looking at ways to improve working conditions across the board to keep experienced personnel in uniform and not lose them.
The plan to grow the number of fighter jets is only one area in which the Air Force is slated to grow in the coming years, with new armed drones, search-and-rescue aircraft and other equipment having also been promised.
Hood said that represents a significant and welcome turn of events after the service was dramatically weakened by years of cuts.
“When General (Rick) Hillier talked about the ‘Decade of Darkness,’” Hood said, “the lion’s share of that was done on the back of the Air Force in the ’90s.”
Talks with the Pentagon about filling the Canadian air force’s short-term need for jet fighters remain on track, said Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan.
Those negotiations for a so-called “interim capability” continue despite the Liberal government making a very public display at the Paris Air Show this week of snubbing Boeing executives.
The U.S. aerospace giant’s commercial trade complaint against Montreal-based Bombardier has thrown the military contract into limbo.
Boeing wants trade regulators in Washington to investigate subsidies for Bombardier’s CSeries aircraft, claiming they allow the Canadian company to export planes at well below cost.
The Liberals had intended to purchase 18 Super Hornet fighters — at a potential total program cost of between $5 billion and $7 billion — from Boeing. The deal was supposed to be a stopgap until the government can finalize the purchase of 88 permanent replacements for the aging CF-18 fleet.
After Boeing filed the trade complaint earlier this year, the government broke off contact with the U.S. company and said it was reviewing the “interim” fighter deal. It heightened the rhetoric last month, saying the aircraft maker was no longer the “trusted partner” it had been.
Sajjan said that, regardless of the trade dispute, the urgent requirement for fighters has not gone away and must be filled somehow.
“We’re still continuing our discussions with the U.S. government, making sure that we fill this capability gap,” Sajjan said.
If Boeing has been frozen out, what is the Liberal government talking about with the Pentagon?
Sajjan said there are “other options,” but refused to explain what they might be.
There are limited choices for a government-to-government purchase with the U.S. if the Super Hornet has been excluded.
During a recent trip to Singapore, Sajjan met with the CEO of Lockheed Martin, which is eager to sell Canada its advanced, but often maligned, F-35 — a plane the Liberals promised not to buy during the last election.
A defence industry source with knowledge of the file said Lockheed Martin has sent a letter to the Liberal government, expressing interest in providing its jets as the “interim solution.”
Sajjan dismissed the notion of making the stealth fighter the “interim” solution and seemed to place his faith in the trade dispute being settled.
“No, right now for us we need to fill this interim capability gap and keep on with these discussions with the U.S. government on this,” he told CBC News. “We are going to be looking at other options as well. We are looking for this to be resolved by the U.S. Department of Commerce quickly, so we can get back to business.”
During an appearance before the Commons defence committee late Tuesday, the country’s top military commander also dangled that possibility.
“What I would tell you is that, as the minister has said, the option for the Super Hornet is still open,” said Gen. Jonathan Vance.
Referring to Boeing, he said: “They’re a bad partner now. Maybe they [could] become a good partner again.”
New versus used
But if the dispute drags on, it is unclear what the Liberal government can do if both the Super Hornet and the F-35 are ruled out as the gap-filler.
Defence experts have suggested there is a remote possibility the U.S. could sell Canada refurbished F-18s, similar to the current CF-18s.
The Pentagon recently had modernized F-16s on the market, which the Polish air force considered but eventually declined. That would be an even more unlikely fit, since Canada has never flown the single-seat fighters, which were the backbone of the U.S. air force for decades.
The “interim” fleet is meant to fill the gap until the Liberal government decides on a permanent replacement for the CF-18s.
the Liberals are twisting themselves into knots for a temporary solution when they can simply proceed to the open competition they promised for the full fleet.
Sajjan said that is still in the cards, but federal procurement officials have said a competition could take up to five years to run.
“If you look at what other states, other countries are doing in their recent procurement to replace their tactical fighters, none of them are taking five years to do this competition,” Bezan said.
“If you look right now, Denmark is doing theirs in two years; Belgium means to complete theirs right now in 18 months; and just earlier this week, Finland started their F-18 replacement program, and they plan to have their first deliveries in 2021 and the entire fleet replaced by 2025, which coincidentally is the same time that our life extension on our CF-18s run out.”
CityNews, by Lee Berthiaume and Joan Bryden, The Canadian Press, 20 June 2017
OTTAWA – The Trudeau government appears to have given aerospace giant Boeing the cold shoulder in Paris — the latest sign that the Liberal government’s plan to buy Super Hornet fighter jets could be on the rocks.
Three cabinet ministers are in the French capital this week to promote Canada’s aerospace sector and meet various companies at the Paris Air Show, one of the largest such exhibitions in the world.
Those meetings included discussions with Lockheed Martin, which is hoping its F-35 stealth fighter will replace Canada’s aging fleet of CF-18s whenever a competition is launched. Meetings between Canadian officials and three other fighter-jet makers — French firm Dassault, Sweden’s Saab and European consortium Eurofighter — were also scheduled.
But in separate interviews, Transport Minister Marc Garneau and Economic Development Minister Navdeep Bains said there were no plans to sit down with Boeing officials.
Bains specifically cited Boeing’s complaints to the U.S. Commerce Department about Canadian rival Bombardier as the reason for the snub.
“We think that approach makes no sense, and we’ve been very clear about the fact that we reject those allegations that they’re making,” Bains said by telephone.
“Hence that is why we didn’t engage with Boeing at this stage.”
Boeing also had its invitation to a reception hosted by Canadian Ambassador to France Lawrence Cannon rescinded, said one source who spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter.
Global Affairs Canada did not respond to a request for comment.
The government announced last November it would purchase 18 “interim” Super Hornets to fill a critical shortage of fighter jets until a full competition to replace Canada’s entire CF-18 fleet could be run starting in 2019.
The government said at the time that the Super Hornet was the only aircraft able to meet its immediate requirements, including being a mature design compatible with U.S. fighters.
But that was before Boeing lodged a complaint with the U.S. Commerce Department, alleging Quebec-based Bombardier was selling its CSeries jet liners at an unfair price with assistance from federal government subsidies.
American authorities are currently investigating the complaint and are expected to decide in the coming weeks or months whether to penalize Bombardier with fines or tariffs.
The Liberal government expressed its displeasure with Boeing by threatening to scrap the planned Super Hornet purchase, which Garneau said Monday is currently on hold.
“The requirement is there,” Garneau said of the need for interim fighter jets, “but our particular discussions with Boeing have been put on hold. So we’ll see what happens in the coming weeks over this.”
The ministers said all options are on the table when it comes to obtaining interim fighters, though Bains said it was premature to start having specific discussions with Lockheed or any other company.
Bains said much of his talks with Lockheed instead revolved around potential opportunities for the company to partner with Canada on space-based projects.
“We’re in the process of developing a long-term space strategy,” he said. “And we want to work with Lockheed Martin because they have some outstanding” industrial participation in Canada.
Bains and Garneau actually had a chance to walk through a Bombardier’s CSeries passenger jet, which was being displayed by Air Baltic, one of the first companies to operate the Canadian-made planes. “When I was there, it seemed to be getting some interest,” Garneau said. “I’m very proud that Canada started from scratch and put together really the best plane in its class in the world.”
The federal government announced in February plans to lend Bombardier more than $370 million to help its aircraft division, which was on top of a $1-billion investment by the Quebec government.
Both ministers touted Canada’s aerospace industry as a world leader in the interviews, a message they said is evident by the fact the Canadian delegation to Paris is comprised of 420 individuals from 110 companies.