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By 1978, the New Fighter Aircraft competitors were short-listed to just three aircraft types: the F-16 and the two F-18 offerings. The F-14, F-15, and the Tornado were rejected due to their high purchase price, while Dassault dropped out of the competition. The F-18L combined the systems and twin-engine layout of the F-18 that Air Command favored with a lighter land-based equipment setup that significantly improved performance. Northrop, the primary contractor for the F-18L version, had not built the aircraft by the time of the NFA program, waiting on successful contracts before doing so. While Northrop offered the best industrial offset package, it would only "pay off" if other F-18L orders were forthcoming, something the Department of National Defence (DND) was not willing to bet on.
A CF-188 Hornet after refueling over Iraq on 4 March 2015.
The F-14 almost entered Canadian service through the backdoor due to the Iranian Revolution. In the aftermath of the revolution, the United States cut off all military supplies to Iran, which meant that the Iranians' new fleet of F-14s would potentially be rendered unflyable due to a lack of spares. The Canadians offered to purchase them at a steeply discounted price. Negotiations ended before a deal was reached as it was revealed that Canadian involvement was crucial in the smuggling of American embassy personnel out of the new Islamic Republic.
In 1980, the McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornet was declared the winner of the New Fighter Aircraft competition. The order included 98 single-seat variants and 40 dual-seat variants, for a total of 138 purchased, plus 20 options (which were not exercised). The F/A-18 Hornet was then dubbed the CF-188.[N 2] Outside official military documents, the aircraft are referred to as CF-18 Hornets. Reasons for the selection listed by the Canadian Forces were many of its requested features were included for the U.S. Navy; two engines for reliability (considered essential for conducting Arctic sovereignty and over-the-water patrols), an excellent radar set, while being considerably more affordable than the F-14 and the F-15. The CF-18 was procured from 1982 to 1988, at a total capital cost of $4 billion in 1982 dollars.
CF-18 design changes
CF-18 showing the false canopy on the underside
The original CF-18 as delivered is largely identical to the F/A-18A and B models. A total of 138 CF-18s, consisting of 98 single-seat and 40 dual-seat models, were delivered. Many features that made the F/A-18 suitable for naval carrier operations were retained by the Canadian Forces, such as the robust landing gear, the arrestor hook, and wing folding mechanisms.
The most visible difference between a CF-18 and a U.S. F-18 is the 0.6 Mcd night identification light. This spotlight is mounted in the gun loading door on the port side of the aircraft. Some CF-18s have the light temporarily removed, but the window is always in place. Also, the underside of the CF-18 features a painted "false canopy". This is intended to momentarily disorient and confuse an enemy in air-to-air combat; the U.S. Marine Corps Aviation and the Spanish Air Force F/A-18s similarly adopted false canopies.[verification needed]
The need to upgrade the CF-18 was demonstrated during the Gulf War I deployment and during the 1998 Kosovo conflict as advances in technology had rendered some of the avionics on board the CF-18 obsolete and incompatible with NATO allies. In 2000, CF-18 upgrades became possible when the government increased the defence budget.
In 2001, the Incremental Modernization Project was initiated. The project was broken into two phases over a period of eight years and was designed to improve air-to-air and air-to-ground combat capabilities, upgrade sensors and the defensive suite, and replace the datalinks and communications systems on board the CF-18 from the old F/A-18A and F/A-18B standard to the current F/A-18C and D standard. Boeing (merged with McDonnell Douglas) the primary contractor and L-3 Communications the primary subcontractor, was issued a contract for the modernization project starting in 2002. A total of 80 CF-18s, consisting of 62 single-seat and 18 dual-seat models were selected from the fleet for the upgrade program. The project is supposed to extend the life of the CF-18 until around 2017 to 2020.
Incremental Modernization Project Phase I
Replacement of the AN/APG-65 radar with the new AN/APG-73 radar, which has triple the processing speed and memory capacity, while also incorporating Terrain Following and Terrain Avoidance modes for low level ground attack missions. Furthermore, the new AN/APG-73 radar is also capable of guiding the modern AIM-120 AMRAAM medium range missile.
Addition of the AN/APX-111 Combined Interrogator and Transponder, otherwise known as an IFF (Identification Friend or Foe). The new IFF brings the CF-18 up to current NATO standards for combat identification.
Replacement of the radios with the new AN/ARC-210, RT-1556/ARC VHF/UHF Radio. This radio, capable of line-of-sight communications on VHF/UHF frequencies as well as HAVE QUICK, HAVE QUICK II, and SINCGARS waveforms resolved the issues of compatibility with allied forces, and are more resistant to jamming.
Replacement of the mission computers with the General Dynamics Advanced Information Systems AN/AYK-14 XN-8 mission computer with increased memory and processing capabilities.
Replacement of the Stores Management System with the Smiths AerospaceAN/AYQ-9 Stores Management System. This makes the CF-18 more compatible with the latest of precision guided munitions (PGMs) and furthermore adds the MIL-STD-1760 interface for use of the AIM-120 AMRAAM missile and the JDAM family of GPS-guided bombs.
Installation of a Global Positioning System/Inertial Navigation System (GPS/INS) capability, enhancing the CF-18's navigational capabilities.
Within the same time frame, other non-IMP upgrades include:
Purchase of the AIM-120 AMRAAM medium-range missiles and other advanced air-to-air and air-to-ground munitions.
Application of a landing gear "get well" program to reduce corrosion and improve gear retraction.
Replacement of the existing CF-18 flight simulators with the Advanced Distributed Combat Training System.
The first completed "Phase I" CF-18 was delivered to the Canadian Forces on time in May 2003. Final delivery of all "Phase I" CF-18s was done at a ceremony on 31 August 2006 at L-3 Communications in Mirabel, Quebec.
Incremental Modernization Project Phase II
A 425 Squadron CF-18A Hornet after undergoing IMP Phase II, distinguishable because of the IFF antenna on its nose.
Phase II of the CF-18 Incremental Modernization Project was awarded to Boeing on 22 February 2005. It consists of the following upgrades:
Addition of a Link 16 data net system to the aircraft, enhancing interoperability with major NATO allies.
Within the same time frame, other upgrades unrelated to the IMP phases include:
A fuselage Centre Barrel Replacement Project (for 40 of the upgraded aircraft).
An Air Combat Manoeuvring Instrumentation System.
An Integrated Electronic Warfare Support Station.
An Electronic Warfare Test Equipment Project.
The first completed "Phase II" CF-18 was delivered to the Canadian Forces on 20 August 2007, at a ceremony in Montreal. The total cost of the entire CF-18 Incremental Modernization Project and concurrent Hornet upgrades was expected to be around C$2.6 billion. The final upgraded aircraft was delivered in March 2010.
The total program cost for the CF-18 purchase and upgrade programs is approximately $11.5 billion including upgrades, in 2011 dollars. Additionally, the cost of maintenance for any 20-year period has been approximately $5 billion, or $250 million per year.
A Soviet Tu-95 Bear-H bomber being escorted by a CF-18A Hornet in 1987.
The first two CF-18s were formally handed over to 410 (Operational Training Unit) Squadron at CFB Cold Lake, Alberta on 25 October 1982. Further deliveries equipped 409, 439, and 421 Squadrons at Baden-Soellingen in then West Germany, the 410 Operation Training Unit, No. 416, and No. 441 Squadrons at Cold Lake, and 425 and 433 Escadrilles (Squadrons) at CFB Bagotville, Quebec. Introduction into Canadian service was initially problematic due to early issues with structural fatigue which delayed initial deployment. As the initial bugs were worked out, the CF-18 started filling the NORAD interception and NATO roles as intended.
A Canadian CF-18A from 409 Squadron, 4 Wing Cold Lake, releases a laser-guided bomb at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, USA, in December 2006.
In 1991, Canada committed 26 CF-18s to the Gulf War on Operation Friction. [N 3] The CF-18s were based in Doha, Qatar. During the Gulf War, Canadian pilots flew more than 5,700 hours, including 2,700 combat air patrol missions. These aircraft were taken from Canada's airbase in Germany, CFB Baden-Soellingen. In the beginning the CF-18s began sweep-and-escort combat missions to support ground-attack strikes by Allied air forces. During the 100-hour Allied ground invasion in late February, CF-18s also flew 56 bombing sorties, mainly dropping non-guided ("dumb") bombs on Iraqi artillery positions, supply dumps, and marshaling areas behind the lines. At the time the Canadian Hornets were unable to deploy precision guided munitions. This was the first time since the Korean War that the Canadian military had participated in combat operations.
Canadian CF-18s depart Aviano Air Base, Italy, after contributing 2,600 combat flying hours in support of NATO Operation Allied Force.
Continuing violence in the former Yugoslavia brought CF-18s into theatre twice: first for a deployment (Operation Mirador) during August-November 1997 for air patrols supporting NATOpeacekeepers in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and again from late June 1998 until late December 2000 (Operation Echo).
From March to June 1999, with 18 CF-18s already deployed to Aviano, Italy, Canada participated in both the air-to-ground and air-to-air roles. Canadian aircraft conducted 10 percent of the NATO strike sorties despite deploying a much smaller percentage of the overall forces. Canadian pilots flew 678 combat sorties: 120 defensive counter-air escorts for Allied strike packages and 558 bombing strikes during 2,577 combat flying hours. CF-18s dropped a total of 397 PGMs and 171 non-guided bombs on a wide variety of targets including surface-to-air missile sites, airfields, bridges and fuel storage areas.
Since 2001, CF-18s have responded to nearly 3,000 possible threats to Canada and United States. A task group of CF-18s and CH-146 Griffons were deployed during "Operation Grizzly" to Kananaskis, Alberta in June 2002 where they were deployed to secure the airspace during the 28th G8 summit. In 2007, an unknown number of CF-18s were deployed to Alaska. They were deployed during two weeks to defend United States airspace as a result of the primary USAF F-15 fighter jet fleet being grounded due to structural defects. They were also deployed during "Operation Podium" to secure the 2010 Winter Olympics and 2010 Winter Paralympics games.
After a United Nations Security Council resolution was adopted to enforce a Libyan no-fly zone, the Government of Canada on 18 March 2011, authorized the deployment of six CF-18 Hornets with one Hornet in reserve as part of Operation Mobile. The Hornets were based at Trapani-Birgi Italian Air Force base in western Sicily. CF-18s were first put into combat on 23 March 2011 when four aircraft bombed Libyan government targets. The seven Hornets returned to CFB Bagotville, Canada, on 4 November 2011 after the end of the UN-approved NATO mission. In total, the Hornets conducted 946 sorties, making up 10% of NATO strike sorties. Over the course of their sorties, 696 bombs were dropped including Laser-guided bombs and Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAM). The RCAF has dropped 495 of the 227 kg versions (500 lbs) and 188 of the 910 kg versions (2,000 lbs) Paveway II bombs. The RCAF also dropped 11 Joint Direct Attack Munitions of the 227 kg versions and two 910 kg versions.
Canada sent six CF-18s to Iraq as part of Operation Impact on 21 October 2014. Air strikes on ISIS/ISIL positions began on 2 November 2014. The CF-18s flew air strike missions until 15 February 2016.
Boeing indicated that the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, a derivative of the F/A-18 Hornet, was a less expensive alternative at an estimated total cost of $4 billion. One of the manufacturers in contention, Boeing, BAE Systems or Saab Aerospace--the name was not disclosed--had promised to assemble the entire aircraft in Canada although. Boeing said that it was contemplating shutting down production of the F/A-18 fighter production line due to lack of orders.
In July 2010, the Canadian government announced that the F-35 Lightning II would replace the CF-18. Canada has been a partner in the Joint Strike Fighter program since 1997, and a Tier 3 partner for the F-35 Lightning II since 2002. The Canadian Forces planned to buy 65 F-35s with deliveries starting in 2016; the contract was estimated to be worth C$9 billion, including aircraft and associated weapons, infrastructure, initial spares, training simulators, contingency funds and project operating costs. Media reports indicated that the lifetime cost of the aircraft might be as high as C$40 billion. In December 2012 it was announced that the government had abandoned the F-35 deal due to escalating cost, and was beginning a new procurement process, with the F-35 still being considered.
On 20 September 2015, Canadian Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau promised to cancel the country's F-35 procurement plan if he were elected, instead replacing Canada's ageing fleet of CF-18s with a less costly alternative, arguing that the F-35 was not needed to defend Canada. He was sworn in as Prime Minister on 4 November 2015. In 2017, the Liberal government announced the purchase of 25 used Australian F/A-18 fighters as a stop-gap measure until new jets could be properly sourced and purchased.
In May 2017, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan announced that Canada would purchase significantly more than the 65 jets originally proposed by the previous government. He stated that if Canada is to meet its NATO and NORAD commitments while also maintaining its own national air defence, "then 65 jets would not be a full fleet. It would only be a fleet for risk managing our requirements, not meeting them."
On 2 June 2017, it was announced that Canada would be acquiring 88 advanced multi-role fighter jets.
As an interim measure pending replacement, Canada decided in December 2017 to purchase 18 F/A-18A/B Hornets (a mix of flyable airframes and spares) from the Royal Australian Air Force. It was later announced in an Australian Senate hearing that Canada planned to purchase another seven Hornets for spare parts.
CF-18A: Single-seat fighter and ground attack aircraft. Canadian Forces designation is CF-188A, 98 built.
CF-18B: Two-seat training version. Canadian Forces designation is CF-188B, 40 built.
CF-188A in flight
Two CF-18Bs flying over Utah test range (USA) for planned engagements during the "Tiger Meet of the Americas" on 9 August 2001
A CF-18 Hornet in the 2009 Century of Canadian Flight colour scheme in
Rotations from Cold Lake occur from 4 Wing to CFB Comox, British Columbia, and from 3 Wing Bagotville to CFB Goose Bay and CFB Gander, Newfoundland and Labrador, CFB Greenwood, Nova Scotia, and various forward operating bases in the Canadian Arctic. There are normally a few aircraft at CFB Trenton, Ontario, as well, though not a permanent squadron.
Accidents and incidents
Canada has lost at least twenty CF-18s in accidents, incurring at least eleven pilot deaths, as of November 2016.
The CF-18 is used as a primary element of the new logo for the Winnipeg Jets NHL hockey team, as an homage to the city's connection to the RCAF/CF as well as an earlier Olympic gold medal winning team, the Ottawa RCAF Flyers. The official unveiling described the origin of the design involving the cooperation of the Department of National Defence and was inspired by the logo of the Royal Canadian Air Force. Team spokesman Dorian Morphy, Senior Director, Marketing & Brand Management of True North Sports & Entertainment indicated, "We are thrilled to be able to continue this relationship in a significant way. The design cues for the plane were inspired by the military jets flown by the Air Force over the years."