by Allan Ng
(with ST Priestley)
Canadian Defence Procurement – November 2003
The CF18 Hornet fighter aircraft – In Detail (Part 3)
The CF New Fighter Aircraft Competition
Allan Ng examines the evolution and development
of the CF's fighter
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 , 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.
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.
 Dassault later substituted its Mirage 2000 before dropping out of the NFA.
 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