I applaud some in Canada who, more and more, are discussing alternatives to the failed project known as the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. With that, the discussion seems to be in error when specifics of aircraft performance are mentioned; for instance, suggesting that drones can do air policing duty.
When looking at a plan-B to the F-35 one has to first identify all the problems before suggesting a solution. Paramount in the discovery process is noting that DND leadership either has no available skill-sets in the profession of air power or, senior leadership is ignoring the in-house experts (if there are any). This is the very first thing that has to be sorted out.
Next everyone has to come to grips with the fact that there isn’t a lot of money to spend on a replacement for the CF-18. Note that when the CF-18 was being considered years ago, aircraft like the F-14 and F-15 were ruled out because they were too expensive. Today is no different. Canada is a price-only buyer.
Another error I have seen mentioned recently are those crowing that the CF-18s had a recent refurb and are good out to 2020. This is a grave error. If the Canadian government does not start a solid replacement action for the CF-18s by 2013, there will be significant operational problems retiring these old jets by 2020. While the jets may have had some refurbishment, it is not a zeroing out of their airframe life hours. Time is short.
There is talk of the Super Hornet. No matter what; this will always be a second-tier fighter solution that will be unable to take on serious anti-access threats in the coming years. Yet, in every area of practical proven performance, it will beat the F-35 (even if the Just so Failed gets fixed). And, the F-35 will never be able to take on serious anti-access threats by the very nature of the requirement that was its blueprint.
I have thrown around very rough calculations (nothing serious) and figure that in order for Canada to go with the Super Hornet option, it would look something like this:
12x F-18F two-seaters
60x F-18E single-seaters
20 years operations and sustainment costs (300 hours per year per airframe)
Upgrade of facilities at 3 major bases and up to 8 deployable locations with in Canada
Weapons and spares
For around $13 billion dollars; not counting industrial off-sets.
I will defer to someone that has hard access to figures.
And while one can point fingers at this idea and state it makes no sense. It makes significantly more sense than committing to a disaster of project management (the F-35) based entirely on Lockheed Martin talking points.