Super Hornets likely cheaper than F-35s, finance officials told minister

Super Hornet cheaper than F-35, Morneau told

OTTAWA — Federal officials tried to cut through the fog of war last year when they told Finance Minister Bill Morneau that it would probably be cheaper to replace Canada’s aging Air Force fleet with Super Hornet fighter jets rather than F-35s.

The cost of each warplane has been a matter of sharp debate for years as successive Canadian governments have wrestled with the politically thorny question of how best to usher the force into the 21st century.

That uncertainty was evident in a secret briefing note that was presented to Morneau in August and obtained by The Canadian Press through the Access to Information Act.

But using publicly available information, officials were able to provide “rough estimates” of the cost of each of the different warplanes that were in the running to replace the CF-18s.

The Super Hornet came out on top: officials pegged the average cost of each jet at between $88 million and $110 million, depending on the source of information and which of the various options were included.

That compared to between $110 million and $144 million for an F-35, while two European fighters that are also in the running were even more expensive.

Officials cautioned that the actual price to Canada would depend on a number of factors, such as the exchange rate, what Canadian-specific modifications were included, and ultimately the number of aircraft purchased.

They also said they were unable to determine the full cost not only of buying, but also operating and maintaining each type of jet — details that some analysts consider to be even more important than the sticker price.

But the figures do provide insight into the information that has been presented to decision-makers in Ottawa when it comes to one of the most politically sensitive and contentious military projects in recent political history.

A few months after the note was presented to Morneau, the Liberal government announced plans to sole-source 18 Super Hornets as a stop-gap measure before running a full competition to replace the CF-18s.

The government says the Super Hornets are urgently needed because of a shortage of airworthy CF-18s, but opposition critics and others allege the plan is actually part of a larger effort to avoid having to buy the F-35.

The figures contained in the briefing note suggest buying those 18 Super Hornets would cost between $1.5 billion and $2 billion, though manufacturer Boeing has until the fall to provide a final cost.

The government has not said when it plans to launch the actual competition to replace the full CF-18 fleet.

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan has said the Liberals want more than 65 new planes, which is how many F-35s the previous Conservative government had planned to buy for $9 billion before putting the project on indefinite hold.

F-35 manufacturer Lockheed Martin did not want to comment Thursday, but the briefing note represents another blow to the company’s continuing and seemingly uphill battle to sell the controversial stealth fighter to the Liberals.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told the House of Commons last year that the F-35 “does not work and is far from working,” and promised during the 2015 election campaign not to buy it.

The Liberals have since backed off that promise, saying the F-35 is free to run in a competition, though government officials have continued to raise questions about the aircraft.

The government’s decision to purchase Super Hornets, even on an interim basis, has nonetheless been widely panned by opposition critics, defence experts and retired military officers.

Thirteen senior officers wrote to Trudeau in February asking him to reconsider his plan to buy the interim fighters, saying the measure would hurt the military in the long run.

— Follow @leeberthiaume on Twitter

Lee Berthiaume and Andy Blatchford, The Canadian Press

Just Posted

UPDATED: Okanagan Mountain Park fire forces evacuation alert

Properties from 6006 to 8888 Lakeshore Road are being placed on an evacuation alert

Carrot Mountain fire fans smoke over West Kelowna

A cluster of three fires are burning above West Kelowna

Complete list of B.C. Interior wildfire coverage

Up-to-date information on blazes happening the Kamloops Wildfire Centre

UPDATED: Highway 97 closed again due to wildfire

Motorists may use an alternate route via Highway 97C, Highway 5A and Highway 3

Two fires caused by lightning at Big White last night

The fires are currently being contained

Breaking: More evacuation orders for Mount Eneas wildfire, south of Peachland

The BC Wildfire Service is battling a large wildfire alongside Highway 97 in Peachland.

Update: Summerland wildfire forces PIB state of emergency

More than 40 firefighters are on scene of the wildfire near Mount Conkle, just outside of Summerland.

Hockey trip fraudster receives house arrest

Man duped 16 families with Okanagan Elite Hockey Association out of over $100,000

Four wild fires still burning near Keremeos

One fire was extinguished and another reported after lightning came through area

‘Amazing Race Canada’ competitors face B.C. challenge

They drove Corvettes, mastered falconry basics, and ate blueberry pie in the Cowichan Valley

Installers to battle Team B.C.

Exhibition men’s fastball Saturday in Vernon

Grizzly bear jumps in river, chases B.C. kayaker

The bear got a bit too close for comfort along the Elaho River near Squamish

Parks Canada looks to shine light on cloudy future for historic sites

A plan is in place to produce 10-year plans designed to turn around sagging attendance figures

B.C. poet shines a bright light on struggle with homelessness

Book launch for John La Greca’s Homeless Memorial is at Vernon’s Gallery Vertigo July 21.

Most Read