Defence Policy,
Foreign Policy,
& Canada-US


In Detail
CF18 Hornet


by Allan Ng
M.Eng., P.Eng.

(with ST Priestley)


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Canadian Defence Procurement  –  November 2003

The CF18 Hornet fighter aircraft  –  In Detail    (Part 3)

Allan Ng examines the evolution and development of the CF's fighter

The CF New Fighter Aircraft Competition

While the US Navy and US Air Force were fielding new fighters, the Canadian Forces were also starting to look for replacements for its aging fleet  (left) of  NORAD CF101s, NATO CF104s, and CF5s (although it was later decided to keep the Northrop fighters).

The decision to proceed with the New Fighter Aircraft project was made in 1977. Some $2.4B was earmarked for 130-150 NFAs to replace the existing mixed fleet on a rough 1-to-2 basis (foreshadowing things to come). Cabinet insisted on proven 'off-the-shelf' aircraft and substantial industrial benefits as a part of the package. Initial candidates were the F-14 Tomcat, F-15 Eagle, Panavia Tornado, Dassault- Breguet F1 [1], plus the products of the LWF competition, the F-16 and F/A-18.

While McDonnell Douglas put forward the F/A-18, Northrop suggested a lighter weight fighter – the de-navalized 'F-18L'. In effect, Northrop was proposing a new YF-17, an aircraft with the advantages of the Hornet without the added weight and complexity of a naval fighter. Unfortunately, it did not meet off-the-shelf rules.[2]

By late 1978, the NFA had been short-listed to two candidates – the F-16 and the F/A-18. The F-18L wasn't off-the-shelf, Dassault dropped out of the competition, while the Tornado, F-15 and F-14 had all been rejected because of high price. The F-14 Tomcat came close to entering Canadian service through the the back door. The Islamic revolution in Iran had cut off that country's air force from spare parts for US-supplied equipment – including recently purchased Tomcats.  Rather than be faced with potentially unserviceable aircraft,  Canada tried to convince Iran to sell its almost-new fighters at cut-rate prices. However, the deal was killed once it was realized that Canadian diplomats were  instrumental  in smuggling  US embassy personnel, masquerading as Canadians, out of the Islamic Republic.

[1]  Dassault later substituted its Mirage 2000 before dropping out of the NFA.

[2]  At the time, some suggested that Northrop should proceed with their F-18L on the basis of a Canadian order alone. This was supported by RAAF interest in the original Cobra (the Australians would eventually choose the F/A-18).  Later, Northrop would 'go it alone' with their F-20 Tigershark (an F-5 development with a single F404 engine) but the result was a spectacular failure in commercial terms.

<   Part 2  —  F/A-18:  the Hornet Gains its Sea Legs
>   Part 4  —  Welcome to Canada,  have you anything to declare?