Image taken from Military Factory. 

In 1980, the F/A-18 was selected as the winner of the New Fighter Aircraft Project competition, and a production order was awarded. The Canadian Forces began receiving the CF-18 in 1982. 

The CF-18s have served the RCAF (Royal Canadian Air Force) for more than three decades and need a replacement that could completely it and serve the RCAF and its needs well beyond the next decade. With the Joint Strike Fighter programme whose product is the F-35, Canada together with United Kingdom, Australia, Netherlands, Norway, Singapore, Turkey, Italy and Singapore participated in the development​ of the promising next generation fighter aircraft. 

Despite the programme’s high potentials, the F-35 suffered from massive delays and costs overruns which in turn caused the partner nations to reduce their orders and for some , the reduction of their involvement and even the withdrawal from the highly promising multinational project. Recently, Canada has pulled out of the project and are looking for an alternative that is obviously cheaper and suit their needs. 

So why does the Super Hornet suit the needs of the Royal Canadian Air Force ? 

Before we see why the aircraft is the one that suits the RCAF, let’s get to know about the aircraft first. 

So according to Wikipedia, 

“…The Boeing F/A-18E and F/A-18F Super Hornet are twin-engine carrier-capablemultirole fighter aircraft variants based on the McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornet. The F/A-18E single-seat and F/A-18F tandem-seat variants are larger and more advanced derivatives of the F/A-18C and D Hornet. The Super Hornet has an internal 20 mm M61 rotary cannon and can carry air-to-air missiles and air-to-surface weapons. Additional fuel can be carried in up to five external fuel tanks and the aircraft can be configured as an airborne tanker by adding an external air refueling system…”

– Extracted from Wikipedia 

First of all, the Super Hornet is based on the already proven and successful F/A-18 Hornet also known as the “Legacy Hornet”. So this statement is already a plus point for the RCAF because since they are operators of the “Legacy Hornet” although it isn’t truly an F/A-18 but a variant of it, the Super Hornet would give the pilots less time to transition from their existing airframes to the Super Hornets as there are commonalities between the two different airframes. So that’s it for the ADAPTABILITY part. 

How much does it COST is also a very important issue. Nowadays, with the fast movement of technology, things have generally become more expensive, more complex but better. Every technical novelty or innovation is immediately implemented into existing aircraft in order to cope with the ever growing threats. The F-35A, what Canada wanted is around US$ 90 million after experiencing a cost decrease over the years of production. However, that value or that range of value seemed sceptical and many doubt the true value of the F-35 to be even at that range. 

The price of all three variants of the F-35 with the F-35C being the most expensive out of the three and the F-35A being the cheapest.

The image above shows the cost of the F-35 as of now and the projected cost at 2018. This is for all three variants. 

In comparison, the Super Hornet is much more affordable, this means the RCAF could potentially buy more of them. The Super Hornet costs about US$ 60 million compared to about US$ 90-100 million for the F-35. 

US$ 60.9 million is definitely cheaper when compared to the price of the F-35A.

Canada, as we know is a huge country with a small population and also a place with plenty of unpopulated and remote areas. 

Look at the country’s population and amount of land. It is obvious that they need something with decent range and most importantly TWO engines.

Over the years, Canada has always had an interceptor or a fighter that could not just fly and patrol at long distances but also have high redundancy – two engines. The Canadair CF-100 Canuck, McDonnell F-101 Voodoo and the Canadair CF-18 are examples of twin engine fighters that the RCAF used or currently in use. Going back to the introduction earlier about the Super Hornet, the aircraft being a twin engine aircraft is just what the RCAF needs. In an event of an engine failure during combat or something as simple as a daily patrol mission , the RCAF would end up losing a multimillion dollar platform and potentially a pilot. The vast expanse of uninhabited land, especially up north in the country would mean chances of being rescued is very slim. Therefore, if an engine failure in the Super Hornet due to let’s say a bird strike would mean that the platform from Boeing would be able to return to base whereas the platform from Lockheed Martin would not. Given the icy runways up north, it is necessary to have a fighter with strong landing gears. Some argued that Canada should procure the F-35C,which has stronger landing gear and structure compared to the CTOL(Conventional Take off and Landing) F-35A (basic variant). However, it still doesn’t solve the twin engine issue and the “Charlie” variant comes at a higher price. The F/A-18E/F Super Hornet has strong landing gears and structures as well as two General Electric F414 engines and high wing area which provides excellent lift for the aircraft- perfectly suited for the climate and environment of Canada. 

Last but not least, the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet can be refuelled through the KC-130 and A310 MRTT (Multirole Tanker Transport) of the RCAF and procurement of the F-35A would result in the acquisition of a newer more advanced and more expensive aerial refueling tanker such as the Airbus A330MRTT. 

The Super Hornet from Boeing uses a refueling probe. Canada would probably need a new tanker if they were to acquire the F-35A because of a different aerial refueling system. 
F-35A CTOL refuels through a refueling probe from a tanker aircraft.

Although not as stealthy as the F-35, the Super Hornet certainly has some low observable features and a low RCS (Radar Cross Section) compared to many aircraft of its generation. The ability to deploy stand off weapons such as the JSOW (Joint Stand -Off Offensive Weapon) means that the Super Hornet doesn’t need to get into harm’s way in order to engage and destroy its targets. The Electronic Attack variant, the EA-18G Growler would certainly be a very useful compliment to the F/A-18E/F as the EA-18G is specifically built to take on the advanced air defense networks of the enemy. Once those networks are taken care off by the highly advanced EA-18Gs, the F/A-18E/Fs could achieve air superiority and also given the freedom to strike surface targets and infrastructure. 

EA-18G fitted with three AN/ALQ-99 jamming pods. Soon to be replaced by the NGJ (Next Generation Jammer).

Summary of capabilities offered by the current Super Hornet.  

  • AESA Radar (Next Generation airborne radar. )
  • Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing System (JHMCS). 
  • LO (Low Observable ) features 
  • Increased range and payload compared to “Legacy Hornet”. 
  • Aerial refueling pods (F/A-18E/F can act as a tanker). 
  • EA-18G Electronic Attack variant
  • High interoperability 
  • More powerful GE F414 engine, potentially the F414 EPE (Enhanced Performance Engine )
  • Two engines 
  • Capable of delivering advanced weaponry e.g. JSOW. 
  • Low operational costs compared to F-35. 
  • Two seat “F” variant, better for strike capabilities. 

Advanced Super Hornet

First flown in the summer of 2013, the Advanced Super Hornet is the pinnacle of the development of the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet. The Advanced Super Hornet offers improved performance, better low observable features and most importantly a more advanced set of avionics. The aircraft also has a fixed internal Infrared Search and Track (IRST) device mounted below the nose but the most eye catching of all additions is the Enclosed Weapons Pod (EWP) which can house a few weapons. This reduces drag and radar cross section. 

Although not a fifth generation fighter or anything fancy, the Super Hornet is indeed something good enough for Canada’s Air Defence and will definitely be sufficient to serve the Air Force beyond the next decade, possibly until the 2030s. By then, sixth generation fighters would be available and once again the RCAF will have to assess the options on which will be the most suited for their needs. 

Written by Admin Maverick of Military Federation