The Department of National Defence will spend $800 million to quickly upgrade 54 CF-18 fighters so they can keep up with advanced threats facing Canada as other forces modernize their fleets. The $800 million is in addition to the $3 billion already allocated to keep the full fleet airworthy and effective while the protracted process to replace them is carried out. Under the original timeline, Canada was supposed to have replaced all of its CF-18s by the end of this year but the latest competition to pick a replacement won’t even be finished by then. That left the RCAF in a severe technology gap that precluded the fighters from effectively working with allied aircraft in common defence and deterrent operations. The upgrades include new weapons, sensors and defensive systems.
“Because we anticipate flying the aircraft longer, this is why we’re doing what we’re doing to ensure we’ve got at least parity with the threats that we would see over that timeline before we can transition to the new fighter,” said Air Force commander Lt.-Gen. Al Meinzinger. “Canada has a history of upgrading their fighter aircraft,” Meinzinger told The Canadian Press. “It’s a consequence of the fact that over time, threats … advance as technology advances.” The RCAF now has 76 of its own aircraft and 36 of those will be upgraded. Another 18 used aircraft from the Australian Air Force will get the upgrades. Despite the patchwork nature of maintaining a front-line capability, Meinzinger said Canadians can feel safe. “We’ve got an excellent capability,” Meinzinger said. “The fighter force has got an outstanding reputation globally. They stand the watch 24/7, 365 under the NORAD rubric. … I don’t want Canadians to be worried about where we’re at today.”