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

Video: Natalie Wilkie wins gold in Women’s 7.5km ski race as hometown cheers her on

Salmon Arm skier takes home her second medal of the PyeongChang Paralympics

Making new furry friends at the Meet the Breeds event in Salmon Arm

Centenoka Park Mall hosts Vernon & District Kennel Club’s showcase of well-trained pups

Salmon Arm community cheers on Natalie Wilkie as she wins first gold medal

Local skier tops the podium in 7.5km race at the PyeongChang Paralympics

Choose a brand for Salmon Arm

What do you think of three options offered to attract people to visit, live and invest in city.

Seniors prefer funeral to lifestyle planning

Survey finds 73% of seniors have a will, only 13% have long-term care plan

VIDEO: B.C. Mounties reunite veteran with lost military medals

RCMP say Zora Singh Tatla, who served in the army in India for 28 years, is the righful owner

4 facts to ring in St. Patrick’s Day

What do you really know about the Irish celebration?

Experts urging caution as rabbits die by the hundreds in B.C. city

Province of B.C. confirms more positive tests for rabbit haemorrhagic disease

Federal government seeks public feedback on pedestrian safety

What safety measures do you think need to improved for pedestrians and cyclists?

Search continues for 10-year-old Montreal boy missing since Monday

Montreal police said they are exploring every possibility in search for Ariel Jeffrey Kouakou

Airline passenger-rights bill claws back protections for travellers: Advocate

Bill C-49 would double tarmac delays, scrap compensation for flights affected by mechanical failures

Canadian research vessel to explore 19th Century shipwrecks

Commissioned this week in Victoria, the RV David Thompson is Parks Canada’s newest vessel

UPDATED: ‘New wave’ of anti-pipeline protests return to Trans Mountain facility

About 100 demonstrators with Protect the Inlet marched to the Burnaby terminal Saturday

B.C. man to plead guilty in connection with hit-and-run that killed teen

Jason Gourlay charged with failure to stop at the scene of accident, attempting to obstruct justice

Most Read