Canada will buy 18 second hand jets from Australia and launch a multi-billion dollar competition to purchase 88 new aircraft, defence officials announced on Tuesday after the military canceled a deal to buy fighter jets from Boeing amid a trade dispute with the American multinational.
The government will spend approximately $500 million for 18 Australian jets and spare parts. The new jets will start flying for the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) in 2019, according estimates based on data contained in a statement released by Canadian officials on Tuesday.
Canada has been seeking new planes for its ageing fleet since 2010, but multiple attempts to find suitable aircraft have been stalled by cost overruns, political wrangling and trade disputes.
“Today’s announcement is a key step toward making sure that they [Canadian military personnel] have the equipment they need to fulfill this responsibility and meet our commitments to our partners and allies around the world,” Minister of National Defence Harjit Sajjan told reporters.
Officials said the Australian option was 90% cheaper than buying brand new Super Hornet jets from Seattle-based Boeing. That had been the government’s plan until September when with the US Department of Commerce said it would launch import duties of 220% on each aircraft produced by the Canadian aerospace firm Bombardier exported into the U.S. as part of an ongoing trade dispute.
Canadian officials said they would not spend billions of dollar buying planes from Boeing in light of those tariffs.
The Liberal Government also outlined plans on Tuesday for a new competition to replace ageing CF-18 jets, with a decision expected in 2022.
"Bidders responsible for harming Canada's economic interests will be at a distinct disadvantage compared to bidders who aren't engaged in detrimental behaviour," Procurement Minister Carla Qualtrough told reporters. "We're hoping this policy incentivizes all suppliers to behave in such a way that they won't be at a disadvantage.”
The air force currently has 77 CF-18s and they are used to protect Canada’s airspace as part of the country’s commitments to its allies. They also deploy on behalf of NATO to bolster European allies in light of Russian airspace violations and, until recently, were bombing ISIS targets in Iraq.
Previous decisions to buy used military equipment have led to huge problems for Canada’s military. When used submarines were bought from the UK in 2000 the boats were plagued with fires, floods, and mechanical problems.
Critics worry the second hand Hornets could come with similar issues. But the head of the RCAF, Lt.-Gen. Mike Hood told reporters the Australian jets “would be brought up to exact same strict standards from airworthiness and flight safety standards as our present fleet."
The Australian aircraft will allow the RCAF to lighten the load on the existing fleet, spreading the burden across a larger number of aircraft. Ironically, Australia purchased 24 Super Hornets as an interim solution in 2007. The Australian Air Force is in the process of receiving new F-35 and likely feels lucky to have found a willing buyer for the older Hornets.