Speaking truth to power on the "interim" fighters

14 February 2017

14 Feb 2017

Editor's Note: Former fighter pilot Laurie Hawn who later became a federal MP (Edmonton Centre) and Parliamentary Secretary to Defence Minister Peter MacKay, recently spoke out "rather more forcefully than was appreciated" on the issue of the "interim" replacement for the CF-18s.

The following, in his own words, is a condensation of some of the main points he made to the Commander of the RCAF and the Chief of the Defence Staff. 


by Laurie Hawn

As followers will know, I have been very critical of the 100% politically motivated plan to buy 18 “interim” Super Hornets for some time and the story only gets worse.

We could fill the fabricated “capability gap” with 27 F-18C/D aircraft from Kuwait at the bargain basement price of $330 million, but we’re not pursuing it. We could also upgrade our 76 CF-18s to Super Hornet system status for about 20% of what it will cost us to buy 18 Super Hornets. Rather than pursue either of those options, we’d rather waste about USD 5.4 Billion on 18 aircraft with no real increase in capability. The cost of 90 F-35As will be USD 8.5 Billion (USD 94.6 million per) in the latest contract; and that unit cost will come down to USD 85 million by the time we should be receiving our first aircraft about 2020. What is wrong with this picture?

The F-18C is virtually identical to our CF-18s, while the Super Hornet is very different in size, radar, engines, mission computers and other systems. We don’t have the qualified technicians, pilots and support capacity to manage our current fleet; and adding a dissimilar fleet will make a very difficult job impossible. We are losing pilots to release at a rate that is unsustainable, and there is no ether that we can dip into to hive off more to get trained on the Super Hornet.

Neither the CF-18 nor Super Hornet actually has the kinematics to properly execute our primary mission of peacetime air sovereignty, with commercial aircraft operating above 40,000 feet. F-35 can properly execute that mission, and many more. The real experts were not consulted and, in fact, 240 of them have been muzzled with lifetime non-disclosure agreements. Why would a government with nothing to hide do that? The answer is that they wouldn’t, and this government has a lot to hide. It would be nice if the Auditor General and the Ethics Commissioner would take an interest. The options analysis that was conducted and clearly showed F-35 to be the answer has been suppressed, because it didn’t conform to the Prime Minister’s foolish and inaccurate statements during and since the 2015 campaign. And you thought that Donald Trump was the only purveyor of “alternate facts”.

Super Hornet also has serious safety concerns with the oxygen system that has resulted in 297 (reported) incidents that have resulted in the permanent grounding of some aircrew. Can we afford that and has anyone done a risk analysis of operating Super Hornet?

An open and fair competition could be started tomorrow and take no more than a year; but the government wants to kick the can down the road until after the next election. If the Statement of Requirements (SOR) is not “modified” to eliminate F-35, that aircraft would win any fair competition, just as it has in so many other cases. There’s good reason to believe that the SOR is being “massaged”. There will be nothing interim about a Super Hornet buy. Even if F-35 were to win a rigged competition, the sudden realization will be that, “Gosh, we just cannot afford a mixed fleet and we’ll just have to buy more Super Hornets.” The first part of that statement would be correct – we cannot afford a mixed fleet of Super Hornet and F-35 down the road, just as we cannot afford a mixed fleet of CF-18 and Super Hornet today.

The latest bit of insanity is that we are looking at buying two-seat Super Hornets and putting navigators in the back seat as Weapons System Operators (WSO). Our primary mission is air defence and there are no two-seat air defence fighters in the world today. There is a reason for that – navigators in fighters and many other applications have been overtaken by technology years ago. To be sure, fighter pilots will also eventually be overtaken by technology; but for the next few decades they have a job to do. We have no capacity to train WSOs, even if someone did invent a reason to want to do so.

The bottom line is that we can’t afford to do what we’re doing for a wide variety of reasons – Canadian sovereignty and security, financial, technical, personnel, moral, alliance support, Canadian industry, etc. If we carry on, I firmly believe and many others share my belief that we will kill the fighter force. I simply can’t support that and my conscience will not let me stay silent and be deemed complicit by that silence. I have been in and around the RCAF for 53 years and it is soul destroying to see what is happening in the name of politics. As anticipated, my vocal opposition to the plan was not well received by the most senior leadership of the RCAF and Canadian Armed Forces. I was asked to resign my position of Honourary Colonel of 401 Tactical Fighter Squadron (the oldest Squadron in the RCAF, 20 Nov 1918). That, I dutifully did, but since I’m not important enough to have sword, I just fell on my pen-knife.

I will continue to advocate for what I think is in the best interests of the RCAF, Canada, our aerospace industry AND taxpayers. Most Canadians may not really care about Super Hornet versus F-35, but I think they do care about the waste of billions of dollars for very little return, especially if it’s purely in the name of politics. More to follow.

– Laurie Hawn